Local artists’ work featured in exhibition celebrating Black History Month
In celebration of Black History Month, the Mile-End Gallery is hosting a month-long exhibition showcasing the works of eight black-identifying Montreal-based artists. Each of the visual artists is presenting works revolving around the expression of black identity. It is through their craft and personal stories of empowerment, representation and culture that these local artists celebrate the merging of black communities in Montreal.
Organized by the Critical Feminist Activism in Research (C-FAR) project based out of Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, the exhibition showcases works by visual artists Kay Nau, G L O W Z I, Sika Valmé, Valérie Bah, Po B.K. Lomami, Carl-Philippe Simonise, Aïssatou Diallo and Chelsy Monie. The exhibition is the culmination of a 12-week residency called Montreal Black Artists-in-Community.
Bringing the head scarf to another level, artist Chelsy Monie presents her project, CROWNING, which recognizes the resistance this cultural item symbolizes. It was after meticulous research and a 14-page proposal exploring the history of these cloths that Monie decided to translate head wraps into art.
“I’m really interested in seeing the experiences that we, as black people, go through every day, and then really uplifting that and taking that into another space so that we can view it from another perspective and see it as a unique cultural practice,” Monie said.
Although head wraps originated in Africa, they are seen all over the world. Monie said she intended her work to be representative of the head wrap’s history, because it is a powerful marker of identity. The idea to represent head wraps without bias and as an emblem of all black people was crucial to the artist. Her piece is comprised of six images of Monie wearing a head wrap, which have been placed onto pieces of wood. All of the images represent a distinct emotion.
The artist carefully burnt lines onto the head wraps in the images to symbolize how their history is engraved. The choice to work with wood came from the fact that head wraps appear natural to the black body and maintained significance throughout periods of colonization, slavery and emancipation.
Monie is also the founder of Ubuntu Talks, a platform through which members of black communities are invited to share their stories. “Ubuntu Talks really started with me not being satisfied with the representation of black people in the media. I didn’t see myself,” Monie explained. “It’s either someone who’s famous, like Beyoncé or Michelle Obama, which is great, they are black women I can look up to, but they’re not the black woman I am today.” The name Ubuntu comes from African philosophy, and loosely translates to “I am what I am because of who we are.” The idea relates to community and human virtue, which Monie said spoke to her as an artist but also as an entrepreneur.
Artist G L O W Z I, who merges various artistic mediums, is exhibiting two self-portraits combining photography, acrylic paint and golden metal wire. Her piece, Reclaiming my space, took its inspiration from her mother’s advice: “You’re a canvas, and you can model yourself however you want.” G L O W Z I explained how her evolving style as well as the media’s representation of black people fueled her artistic process. It was after the unsuccessful search for relatable representation in media that she felt the need to represent the ordinary black experience.
“What I wanted to represent is the idea that, even though we are not Beyoncés or not just people who are victims of police brutality, our experiences are important,” she explained. “The idea was just to remind people, while they look at the pieces, that no matter what [black people] are doing, they’re pieces of resistance. They are symbols of resistance because just going to school, just having a job, just following your dream is something that is really hard to do in this system.”
Symbols of Resistance will be on display at Mile-End Gallery (5345 Park Ave.) from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends until Feb. 28.
Photos by Mackenzie Lad