THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM: Sharing experience, history, and identity

Tiohtia:ke/Montreal-based Black artists come together in Le Livart’s newest exhibition

This is an exhibition that no one should miss. THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM introduces the works of 11 Black Montreal-based artists. Each artist shares a space with one another, challenging viewers with artworks that portray ideas of self-identity and integral experiences.

THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM  was curated by Joséphine Denis, a curator and a writer, originally from Port-au-Prince, whose work focuses on Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. The exhibition, which features the works of Esther Calixte-Bea, Clovis-Alexandre Desarieux, Eddy F., Stanley Février, Gloria François, Anick Jasmin, Mallory Lowe, Schaël Marcéus, Oski, Stefani Saintonge and Michaëlle Sergile, was created to bring together the work of Black artists in a space where they can share “inherited experiences of dislocation and displacement to form affinities,” explained Denis.

The gallery shares the same layout as a house, where each room is attributed to one artist or more. For instance, the canvases are displayed in the larger room of the exhibition whereas the photo collections and the sculptures have their own space. Every artwork sheds light on the personal narratives and experiences of each artist.

Entering each room is like being in the presence of a family member telling a story. 

In one of the rooms, Mallory Lowe, a photographer, art director, and Photography student at Concordia, presents her newest photo collection taken on 120mm film. Named What is this home that is home that is not home, the body of work explores her Cameroonian roots.

One of Lowe’s photographs depicts red clay dripping on a man’s back who is resting his head on a woman’s shoulder.

“The red clay is a reference to my father’s land, which is West Cameroon,” said Lowe, who is half Belgian and half Cameroonian.

The series of pictures helped Lowe question her own identity. She wonders what it means for her to live in Canada, a colonized land with parents of different origins. Lowe has heard problematic statements from her Belgian family, which made her reject that side of herself many times.

I came to understand that I need to explore and accept my white side and as a mixed person I have the privilege to choose the good aspects of each culture,” she said.

Next to Lowe’s photo collection, a small, long room displays the work of Stanley Février. On one side of the room, there is a long mirror with a colourless American flag carved in it, and on the other side, is a molded body of a man displayed on his back, both of his hands crossed. Made with white wax, the molded sculpture can be seen in the mirror, which seems to represent the violence against Black people in the United States.

“[Février] is very straightforward in his work,” Lowe explained.

The group exhibition also presents a series of pictures by photographer and cinematographer Schaël Marcéus that depicts images from his last visit to his native country, Haiti. Visitors can also observe the works of Gloria François depicting small photographs of family members and collages with archival pictures from the Centre International de Documentation et d’Information Haïtienne, Caribéenne Afro-Canadienne, located in the Old Port.

The title of the exhibition is in reference to an interview with Nina Simone from the 60s where she speaks frankly about the importance of Black identity and her responsibility to make Black people curious about themselves and connect with their roots, a theme explored in Denis’ exhibition.

“These works offer spaces to imbue ourselves with the visual, material, and cultural codes that establish commonalities between Black social experiences,” said Denis.

THIS IS WHAT COMPELS ME TO COMPEL THEM will be open at Le Livart at 3980 St. Denis St. until Sept. 27.

Photo by Christine Beaudoin.

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