Black Theatre Workshop’s annual celebration in honour of Black History Month
On Feb. 1, at the very start of Black History Month, Quebec’s only English-speaking professional Black Theatre Company organized their annual Vision Gala at the Hotel Omni Mont Royal.
The event pays tribute to outstanding Black artists and changemakers who contribute to the development of arts in Canada. It also celebrates a vision of growth, solidarity and unity inspired by the civil rights activist, and important historical figure, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The 2020 honorees were author H. Nigel Thomas and community-driven arts educator, activist and multi-disciplinary artist, Leon Llewellyn. Thomas was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, and Llewellyn the Dr. Clarence Bayne Community Service Award.
“I feel very validated with this award,” Thomas told The Concordian. “There is a verse in the Bible that alludes to the fact that you are always honoured last by your own community. So to be recognized right now by the Black community is truly an honour.”
As a gay Black man writing about racism, and gender and LGBTQ+ issues, Thomas’ work is not without its share of backlash.
“But I must say, ever since 1993 when I wrote my first book, Spirits in the Dark, there has been great community progress,” he said.
The gala began with a dynamic cocktail reception, where champagne and canapes were served. In addition, attendees feasted their eyes on a number of artworks behind an eager artist, who had smaller versions of each canvas laid out on a table in front of them for sale.
Emmanuel Ayoola Akintade, also known as Emmanuel Ayo was born and raised in Nigeria, and now based in Montreal. The artist studied Studio Arts at Dawson College, which allowed him to hone his craft and passion.
In 2017, his first-ever self-organized solo show took place in Montreal at a public studio. Since then, his paintings have been featured in school associations (Concordia and McGill’s African student associations) and organizations such as Dawson’s yearly student exhibition (S.P.A.C.E – a science and arts exhibition.)
One of his most eye-catching works was of a bearded Black man, painted over a striking yellow background. Drawn simply from the shoulders up, his head is rolled back, eyes closed, with tears rolling down his cheeks and mouth agape. The sheer, raw emotion represented in this artwork was simply intoxicating.
When asked what he thought of Black History Month, and the fixation on artists of colour during that time, he shrugged.
“It is what it is,” he said. “All we can do is embrace it. At least people are paying attention, you know?”His words echo with honoree Thomas’ remarks.“I don’t mind that February is recognized as Black History Month,” Thomas said, “because it sheds light, and it might make people pursue and do their own research.
Photos courtesy of Julian Haber.