Sharing archival material to make Black existence visible

A Harlem Nocturne presents the reflection of an Afro-Canadian artist Deanna Bowen

Consisting of research compiled in Vancouver and Toronto over the last four years by interdisciplinary artist Deanna Bowen, A Harlem Nocturne brings elements of the past to light that are still relevant in today’s society.  Bowen exposes material that reveals Black experiences that tend to be forgotten via video footage, archival documents, and even some of Bowen’s own family experiences, which she shares through personal videos and photographs. The exhibition is held at three artist-run centres on 4001 Berri St.: OBORO, Ada X and Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV).

Curated by Kimberly Phillips, a Vancouver-based educator and curator, the exhibition is divided into two different spaces. Each space shares elements of Bowen’s research work to the public. When entering the building, the sound of a trumpet can be heard; immediately visible is a projection named A quick riff, 2020 that was produced in residency with OBORO, an art production centre, with the help of Charles Ellison who specializes in Jazz Studies at Concordia.

On the second floor is Ada X, a bilingual feminist artist centre. This area presents three different choreographic transcriptions, Gibson Notations 1,2 and 3, 2019 , exhibited in lightboxes on the walls. Each one displays a different dance that was created by dancer and choreographer Leonard Gibson. These dances were originally performed in CBC’s 1955 variety show Eleanor. The show was hosted by famous jazz singer Eleanor Collins, who was the first Afro-Canadian woman to host a national broadcast television series.

These three choreographic transcriptions can be visualized in the darker space of the gallery alongside Gibson Duets, 2018. Reproduced by Vancouver-based dancers Justine A. Chambers and Bynh Ho, the piece is a re-animation of Gibson’s original dances that were performed on the show.

“[Bowen] was quite interested in trying to pull [the choreographies] out of the archives and have them live in another form,” said Phillips.

OBORO is located on the third floor. A small room in front of the entrance displays a four-channel video installation named On Trial The Long Doorway, 2017/2019. The piece is a re-creation of a 1956 CBC tele-drama The Long Doorway, the story of a Black lawyer who represented a white student from the University of Toronto that was charged for assaulting a rising Black basketball player.  Bowen’s great uncle, Herman Risby, played a supportive role, but no recordings of the tele-drama were found.

Fortunately, Bowen was able to use the original script and invited five Black Toronto-based actors to reinterpret the story. Viewers can see the actors engage with the script as they rehearse.

Moving on to the next larger room of the gallery is more of Bowen’s research. The room shows multiple works displayed on each wall, every single one of them informing the public about the presence of Black bodies in a settler colonized land. Some of these works exhibit Bowen’s own family experiences, where some family members were part of the entertainment industry.

A cast photograph of Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars from Finian’s Rainbow, circa 1953 depicts Bowen’s great uncle Herman Risby, and Risby’s first cousin Leonard Gibson. Both can be seen on the second row to the right in the company of jazz singer Eleanor Collins in the first row on the right.

“The photograph serves to remap places where Black people performed and make them visible in this community,” said Phillips.  

Give Me Shelter, 2011/2019 is a workbook transcribing an interview with Bowen and her mother, where her mother speaks of her experience with racial violence growing up in Vancouver. A picture of Bowen’s grandfather can be viewed in the open book. Bowen’s grandfather was a preacher who once had to give spiritual guidance to a young Black man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death; an uneasy situation for him.

Another interesting work is a screen print titled The Promised Land, a reference to an episode from a 1962 CBC television series called Heritage, that told the story of a Black community that escaped racial violence and segregation in the United States who settled in northern Alberta at the beginning of the 20th century, only to experience the same anti-Black racism in Canada.

“She reminds us that even seemingly insignificant documents can be rich repositories for unintended readings, and for questioning who has been charged with writing our histories and why,” said Phillips. 

The exhibition provides visitors a map of the exhibition with descriptions of each work that are numbered. Reservations can be made online.

A Harlem Nocturne is on display by Ada X, Groupe, Intervention Vidéo (GIV), and OBORO at 4001 Berri St. until Oct. 17, 2020.


Photos by Alannah Morrison


POP takes over the Mile End

POP Montreal is an annual multidisciplinary music and arts festival, taking place in various locations across the city from Sept. 26 to 30. In a takeover of the Mile End and some of the neighbourhood’s most prominent venues, more than 400 artists, musicians and filmmakers participated in a vast number of events.

Under the umbrella of the festival, there are several subsections, such as Film POP, Art POP and Puces POP, focusing on music-related film events, visual arts and crafts respectively. This year, events under these branches included talks by filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Allan Moyle of Empire Records, outdoor film screenings, diverse art exhibitions and site-specific performances across the city. POP Montreal also put on a variety of panels and symposiums, discussing a range of topics in relation to the arts and music community, from gentrification within the arts to the relationship between music and astrology.


Film POP

Kicking off Film POP was a free screening of Betty: They say I’m different. The documentary reveals the bold and enigmatic Betty Davis as she burst into stardom and, just as quickly, disappeared from the limelight.

Now, more than 30 years later, she is ready to tell her story—her transformation from a “bright, orange bird” to the dark and powerful “crow.” The latter encapsulated the musician’s Nasty Gal stage persona. With the subsequent loss of her beloved father, the crow disappeared from her heart, and she from the stage.

POP Symposium

Fail Better: Learn from the Pros’ Mistakes featured successful music managers and publishing administrators Mark Kates, Molly Neuman, Nancy Ross, Jeff Waye and Tom DeSavia who spoke about their mistakes in the industry and how they’ve since bounced back. From debates surrounding exposure and payment, to growing your network and being true to your art, the panelists exposed a different side to the music industry.

Historical Erasure of Queer Spaces: Shakedown and Beyond featured musician and artist Elle Barbara; community organiser, activist and artist Jodie-Ann Muckler; hip hop artist, entrepreneur and community organiser Lucas Charlie Rose; and Montreal-based DJ and designer Tati au Miel. Together, the panelists led an empowering discussion that questioned true inclusivity. They spoke about building trust and relationships among QTBIPOC to better foster safe community spaces and encouraging environments for performers and party-goers alike. They also indicated the importance of properly documenting and archiving these community organizing methods for organisers to come.“The work I’m doing will help the people after me,” Tati said. “We don’t realize how lucky we are to be safe enough to document these events.” In the past, documentation was high-risk. Now that it’s safer for the queer community to do so, their stories must be told and non-POC must help be their microphone.

Find POC organizers and give them money,” suggested Muckler. “Hire QTBIPOC performers, not because they’re people of colour but because they’re qualified. Don’t tokenize; give it to them because they need it more.”

Gentrification: The Role of Artists in Changing Neighbourhoods was a collaboration between Concordia’s Fine Art Student Alliance (FASA) and POP Montreal. The panel discussed the presence of gentrification in the arts community, and took place at Piccolo Rialto. Moderated by Robyn Fadden, a Montreal-based writer, editor and broadcaster, the panel featured Faiz Abhuani, Gregory Burton, Fred Burrill and Cathy Inouye. Who all have unique experiences and personal connections to the arts, and its relationship to gentrification within Montreal, through their respective careers, practices, and experiences.


Whispering Pines

California-based video and performance artist Shana Moulton created Whispering Pines as an ongoing project to define the virtual environment of her alter-ego and avatar, Cynthia. A hypochondriac and agoraphobe, Cynthia searches for harmony and unison in her surrounding environment, both indoors and outdoors. She is obsessed with the kitsch and New-Age, avant-garde home decor and consumerism. Projected onto the gallery walls, Whispering Pines transports viewers into the artist’s mystical, kaleidoscopic world and Cynthia’s pop culture-obsessed subconscious.

Where: Centre Clark, 5455 Gaspé Ave., suite 114
When: Now until Oct. 13
Admission is free.
Miniature turtlenecks cover the wall in Portable Closets. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.
Portable Closets

Kyle Alden Martens is a Montreal-based interdisciplinary artist working with sculpture, textile and fashion design. The miniature garments in Portable Closets were attached to or, in some cases, fitted within ready-to-wear articles of clothing and wooden sandals. Accompanied by a video to further explore Martens’s project, the installation includes strange sculptures, tiny turtlenecks, T-shirts and pants. “Don’t look for fixed meanings here, you won’t find them,” wrote Concordia’s art history PhD student, Mikhel Proulx, in the gallery’s pamphlet.

Where: Centre Clark, 5455 Gaspé Ave., suite 114
When: Now until Oct. 13
Admission is free.

Òu sommes-nous?

This multidisciplinary exhibition is showing at the artist centre OBORO and features the works of Judith Albert, Nik Forrest, Katrin Freisager and Dana Claxton. The exhibition focuses on connections and relationships with nature. Featuring works in the media of photography, film and moving images, the works also invoke feminist and postcolonial themes and perspectives. The exhibition and the artists’s respective works provide a diverse mix to look at and interact with, yet are cohesive and connected through these central themes.

Where: OBORO, 4001 Berri
When: Now until Oct. 27
Admission is free.

Showing at the Ellephant Gallery in Quartier des spectacles, Cité-Jardin features the work of artist Sabrina Ratté, a Concordia graduate with a master’s degree in film production. The exhibition presents works in video projection and 3D printing, and transforms the gallery space into otherworldly, imaginary, ephemeral landscapes. The exhibition considers and explores connections between the physical and virtual realms. In addition to the exhibition, an interview with the artist will be broadcast every day by XX Files Pirate Radio at Rialto Theatre.

Where: Ellephant, 1201 St-Dominique St.
When: Now until Nov. 3
Admission is free.

What you missed…

Photos by Mackenzie Lad.

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