By Neil Armstrong
An exhibition showcasing the history of black queer activism in Toronto, The Fire This Time: A Look Back at the Block, recently officially opened at the Glad Day Bookshop at the start of Pride Week which is from June 22- July 1.
Housed on the third-floor community space of the historic bookstore, recently co-owned by a group of 22 community members, the exhibit features works by Christopher Cushman, Abdi Osman, Courtney McFarlane, JORIAL, Kamille Grant, Deviant Productions and others.
It is curated by artist Syrus Marcus Ware. Described as the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, Glad Day has been in existence since 1970 serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, two-spirited, intersex, queer or questioning community.
“Toronto has an incredible history of African Diasporic LGBTTIQQ organising and activism. It also has a thriving artistic community and a burgeoning queer arts scene.
It is from within this history and community that Blackness Yes! has created The Fire This Time: A Look Back at the Block, a retrospective exhibition that considers the many artworks created through 14 years of Blockorama, a day-long festival celebrating black LGBTTIQQ community in Toronto,” says the Facebook page promoting the exhibit.
Blackness Yes! is a community-based committee that works year-round to celebrate black queer and trans history, creativity and resistance. “Our mandate is to create a space for LGBTTIQQ folks of African descent and their friends, loved ones and supporters.
The exhibition features photography, video, graphic art and textiles. It tells a story of community-building, resistance and celebration of identity while imagining a potential future: one where LGBTTIQQ community-organizing could be reflective of the diversity of Toronto.
“The exhibition engages both artists and viewers and invites them to look back at our history and to imagine what they would like to see in the future of African diasporic LGBTTIQQ2S activism in Toronto,” says Blackness Yes! “Michael Erickson brought us all together to make us realise that we needed to keep this space, that there were great opportunities to not only keep the Glad Day but to make it better, to make it more inclusive and to serve our community,” says Michael Went, one of the co-owners of the bookstore.
Went says the bookstore will be a space that recognises the diversity within the LGBTTQ community - diversity of race, gender, gender-identity, religion, political thought, and he hopes it will be a space that can represent all of those identities, including straight people to understand about LGBTQ issues in the space.
He met his husband-to-be at Blockorama 11 years ago and is very proud that the bookstore is hosting the exhibition. The exhibition will end on July 4, three days after the 14th annual Blockorama which will take place on the Wellesley stage across from Wellesley subway station on Sunday, July 1 from 11a.m. to 10p.m.