As a product of a the Canadian education system, I have certain ideas of what slavery looks like (bullwhips and cotton fields), what Canada’s role in the North American slave trade was (heroes of the Underground), and what an art exhibit on slavery would entail (broad, dramatic and heartwrenching).
Concordia alumnus Guy Giard describes himself as a “pluridisciplinary artist,” which means that he works with a variety of mediums including, sculpture, ceramics, photography, acrylic, oil paintings, and so on. He received a Bachelor of fine arts and continued his education at Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. He now holds the position of Art Educator at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The title of his exhibit currently displayed at the Centre d’Histoire de Montreal is “Angelique 1734”. It is an exploration of Quebec’s role in the slave trade, through the exposition of one woman’s tragic experience in “New France.”
The first recorded instance of blacks in Quebec was in 1606. A black linguist named Mathieu Da Costa accompanied the explorer Samuel de Champlain to act as interpreter for the French with the Mic Mac indians. The next recorded instance of a black man in Quebec was in 1628. His name was Olivier Le Jeune and he was a slave.
The subject for Guy Giard’s exhibit is a woman known as Marie-Josephe Angelique. She was born in Madeira, Portugal in 1705 and was abducted by traders shortly afterwards. She was sold to Fran_ois Poulin de Francheville and during her life as his slave she gave birth to three children (they all died) by another slave named Ceasar (who also died). She then fell in love with a white man named Claude Thibault.
She reportedly received knowledge that the widow of her master intended to sell her so she decided to run away. Marie-Josephe was accused of setting fire to her home, which led to a huge fire that destroyed 46 other houses.
On April 11, 1734 she was arrested and found guilty based on the testimony of a five-year-old girl. She was condemned to be burned at the stake. On account of a plea by Angelique for a more merciful execution, the sentence was reduced. On June 21, 1735, Marie-Joseph
Angelique was wheeled in a garbage barrel to the gallows and hung.
Giard’s exhibit is comprised of photographic and written installments. A black model poses as Angelique under dull lighting in photos that could double as police mug shots. There are corresponding photos of the artist in various poses of despair, accompanied by ‘letters’ to Angelique that express the artist’s agony over the plight of slavery. This correspondence is an effort upon the artist to bridge the temporal and cultural gap of over two and a half centuries in order to bring the experience of Angelique into contemporary relevance.
He lists modern examples of slavery as sex tourism (rich clients travel to poor countries to have sex with children) and child labor, as well as mentioning Haiti, Sudan and others that still actively practice what is defined as slavery.
Giard’s photographs depict the alienation that occurs between the victims of slavery and its audience. His photos illustrate the stark and sometimes subtle dehumanization of slavery, blurring the line that defines victimization. Giard’s literature that accompanies the photographs, however, is hardly as wrenching as the story itself. However, the poignancy of his subject’s plight transcends whatever medium the artist employs.