The Chorus is Speaking: Experiencing Identities of Blackness in Canada
Ojo Agi, Syrus Marcus Ware, Charles Campbell, Jan Wade, Chantal Gibson, Karin Jones, Dana Inkster, Christina Battle
Curated by: Michelle Jacques & Jenelle M. Pasiechnik
June 11 to August 20, 2022
Ojo Agi – Christina Battle – Charles Campbell – Chantal Gibson – Dana Inkster – Karin Jones – Jan Wade – Syrus Marcus Ware; 8 artists of incredible insight and inventiveness brought together in an exploration of facets of the Black experience on Turtle Island through sculpture, drawing and painting, installation, film, and poetry.
The varied perspectives in the exhibition speak to activist positions, seeking a balance between carrying the weight of difficult histories and finding joy, the beauty of Blackness, cultivating boundaries through a resistance to the gaze, thinking through the creative process with curiosity, love of experimentation, and the pursuit of knowledge. This exhibition is an opening, a start to a necessary conversation and a welcoming for new dialogues and voices to be heard on Ligwiłda’xw territory. The exhibition is created in service of the Black community of Campbell River and North Vancouver Island. At the same time, we acknowledge the complexities of speaking to experiences and perspectives that come from five hundred years of complicated history on this land.
The title The Chorus is Speaking refers to a group of artists in dialogue about their experiences, the state of culture in Canada, and often untold (his)stories. In classical Greek theatre the chorus was a source of wisdom that would provide commentary on actions and events, thus creating a deeper and more meaningful connection between the characters, the audience, the story, and moral sentiment. This group functions in a similar way, by offering an overarching perspective filled with wisdom and insight. They have a wealth of experience as educators, artists, advocates, activists, and scholars thinking through their own lives and creative processes, offering us the opportunity to learn from and witness that knowledge.
Ojo Agi is an award-winning Nigerian-Canadian artist and researcher based in Montreal, QC. Her work uses brown paper and portraitures to make visible an experience that is increasingly common yet largely underrepresented.
Christina Battle is an artist based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her practice focuses on thinking deeply about the concept of disaster: its complexity, and the intricacies that are entwined within it.
Charles Campbell is an internationally acclaimed multidisciplinary artist, writer, curator and educator. Born in Jamaica, is based in Victoria, BC. His artworks, which include sculptures, paintings, sonic installations and performances, explore aspects of Black history, especially as experienced in the Caribbean region.
Dana Inkster is an artist of African descent and was born and raised in Ottawa, currently located in Lethbridge, AB. Dana’s work often experiments with narrative while exploring the complexities of identify, which stem in part, from her experiences as a black, queer, feminist.
Chantal Gibson is an award-winning writer-artist-educator living on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish Peoples, Vancouver, BC. Working in the overlap between literary and visual art, her work confronts colonialism head on, imagining the BIPOC voices silenced in the spaces and omissions left by cultural and institutional erasure.
Karin Jones is an interdisciplinary artist with a background in jewelry, who lives and works in Vancouver, BC. Her most recent work deals with the ways historical narratives shape our sense of identity.
Jan Wade is a Hamilton-born, Vancouver-based artist whose practice includes mixed-media assemblages, paintings, textiles, text works, and icon-like sculptural objects. Wade has developed a highly distinctive style and iconography, shaped by her personal experience as an African Canadian of mixed cultural heritage and her commitment to ideas of social and spiritual transformation.
Syrus Marcus Ware is a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, activist, curator, and educator. He lives and works in Toronto, Ont. Syrus’ works with and explores social justice frameworks and Black activist culture.
What’s coming next? See our Upcoming Exhibitions.
Four Satellite Campus programs were first delivered in 2021, consisting of barrier-free workshops developed and delivered by professional, Indigenous artists hailing from traditional territories around Northern Vancouver Island and the nearby Discovery Islands. Incorporating principles of reconciliation and decolonization, the CRAG acted only as a structure of support, empowering the artists and community leaders to determine the parameters of their program and the exploration of participants’ own contemporary, cultural expressions. Each Satellite Campus program forged important partnerships with remote Indigenous communities leading towards sustained relationships.
Central to the Satellite Campus program is the concept of self-determination for remote Indigenous communities. The nature of each public outreach program is informed by the specific needs of its community, as established by professional artists and leaders from within those communities. Principles of reconciliation and accessibility are built in, creating barrier free opportunities for participants to engage in meaningful, self directed art-making.
Exhibiting the “artefacts” from these community workshops not only elevates the work produced, but initiates an important dialogue with the greater Campbell River community on the interests, values, concerns, and artistic excellence coming from these regions. Exhibiting in our Satellite Gallery activates this very public space, and exposes the work to countless visitors and tourists.
A̱MŁA IN TSAX̱IS and A̱MŁA IN YA̱LIS: North Island public art project, Artist Facilitators : Skeena Reece (Metis/Cree and Tsimshian/Gitksan) and Corrine Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw/Tlingit)
A̱mła in Kwak’wala means “let’s play.” Professional artists Corrine Hunt and Skeena Reece led participants to explore the evolution of traditional Northwest Coast Indigenous art and language, finding ways to bring it into our modern world.
Workshops held over multiple days, in both Fort Rupert and Alert Bay, allowed participants to develop a deeper understanding of how traditional artforms have changed through time. They shared language (Kwak’wala), knowledge, songs, and experiences to inform the artwork.
The final result were two separate public murals reflecting contemporary stories and Indigenous identities: a painted driftwood installation outside U’mista Cultural Centre, and spray painted stencils of hands around the village of Tsax̱is.
Honouring our Gəngənanəm, Artist Facilitator: Avis O’Brien (Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw )
This workshop offered Liǧwiłdax̌w youth in Cape Mudge an opportunity to explore utilising their breath, bodies, and weaving as forms of healing during this time of grief and loss.
The group cultivated wellness by weaving around a residential school desk, surrounding the darkness embedded in the desk with cedar, their most powerful healing medicine. Each strand of cedar represents the lives of Gəngənanəm (children) lost, and the strength, resilience & wisdom this generation of youth carries to heal from the attempted and ongoing colonial genocide forced upon their people.
Verna Wallace, Elder and Residential School survivor attended the workshop and shared her personal story of attending St. Michael’s. The accompanying documentary shares the experience participants went through.
all my tiičma, Artist Facilitator: Sonny Assu (Ligwilda’xw Kwakwaka’wakw)
This public art project was directed at individuals experiencing homelessness in Campbell River, in response to the stigma and isolation this community regularly faces. With many sleeping in our doorways overnight, the project reaches out in an intentional way, providing access to meaningful contemporary art.
Through a mentorship between established professional artist Sonny Assu and emerging artists, Paul Vincent John (ʔiiḥatisatḥ činax̣int / Ehattesaht-Chinehkints First Nation) and Charles Jules (Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k:tles7et’h’ First Nation) a design was conceived, drawn, and vectored for installation in the doorways of the building, creating a welcoming space for community members to spend time, feel loved, empowered, and uplifted.
The final result is a memorial that honours a loved one lost. Artwork created by her peers, for her peers.
Self-Location Workshop, Artist Facilitator: Hjalmer Wenstob (Nuu-chah-nulth)
Tla-o-qui-aht artist Hjalmer Wenstob first introduced an Experiential Panel Discussion on Cultural Appropriation as part of the Carving on the Edge Festival in Ucluelet, BC. The deeply introspective self-location writing exercises were a way of laying the groundwork to support the important, albeit uncomfortable, conversations around cultural appropriation.
The Self-Location Workshop continued this work, allowing participants to transform their self-awareness into art, creating sketches, drawings, and a series of lino-cut prints. Students also learned more about Indigenous studio arts and the impacts of cultural appropriation, with a specific focus on Nuu-chah-nulth and Pacific Northwest Coast art practices.
Our satellite gallery is an exhibition space located in the lobby of the Campbell River Art Gallery and Visitors Centre. Four large showcases are devoted to contemporary artwork.