By Neil Armstrong
With just one week into it, February – Black History Month – is showcasing an eclectic mixture of African Canadian culture, from photographic exhibitions to theatre, dance, film, literature, spoken word and music.
Robert Small, creator of the Legacy Poster 2013 (formerly the Official Black Histoy Month Poster), said this year he decided to shine a light on activism and so the poster features five Black Canadians who were, or are activists in their work.
Three are Jamaicans – Sherona Hall, Dudley Laws (both deceased) and Dr. Afua Cooper, holder of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The others are Burnley Jones, who was born in Truro, Nova Scotia and is a well-known civil rights activist and Nalda Callender, executive director of the National Congress of Black Women in Vancouver. She is originally from Antigua and has blazed a trail in advocating for human rights.
“I think the most important thing of my poster is that they’re supporting the stories of black people on our own terms. It’s not like they’re doing it in-house and they want to depict it,” Small said about the Ontario Federation of Labour, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Public Alliance of Canada that have come onboard to sponsor the poster.
Small said this year more than others he plans to push forward with his plans to distribute the posters across the country. He plans to travel to Nova Scotia soon.
TD Then & Now Black History Month Series
Since 2009, Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND), in partnership with TD Bank, has been presenting the TD Then and Now Black History Month Series.
“BAND’s mandate is to promote Black culture and history through the arts, locally, nationally and internationally is very well served through the development of this national festival,” J.R. Richards, BAND’s Board Chair writes about this year’s programme.
The contribution of Caribbean people to this history is also highlighted. Currently the festival is programmed in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa, and there are plans to expand it into Western Canada in the coming years.
Jamaican music forms, Reggae and Ska, feature prominently in the series in Toronto.
Photographer, Lesia Bailey, a former photojournalist of the Gleaner, presents “The Visual Evolution of Dancehall Culture within Toronto” exhibition, which captures pivotal moments in dancehall over the past two decades, through the lens of her camera.
Since 1990, Bailey, better known as “PictaladyLesia,” has immersed herself in the dancehall culture, often times being the only female photographer at dancehall performances to capture the vibrancy, drama and sometime fatality of the culture.
“It is a lived experience. I have actually been submerged. I used to call dancehall my home because as they would in Jamaica “every pan weh knock, I’m there” so I lived it for many years,” Bailey said, noting that she stepped out of the dancehall culture five years ago and now she is an observer.
The exhibition includes thirty 16” x 20” photographs and a multimedia video presentation of over 300-still images of dancehall culture: fashion, DJ selectors, patrons, and local and international celebrities.
“Captured on 35mm and digital format, this exhibition will provide a visual documentation of the changing landscape of the players and promoters, their growth, the artist and their launch to stardom, and the numerous lives that have been lost on many dancehall floors. The exhibition will provide the viewers with a voyeuristic look at an affirmation of the existence of these often marginalised and underground lives,” writes Rose-Ann Marie Bailey, the curator.
The exhibition is presented with Fourth Eye Gallery and Helping Hands International at fourth eye gallery, 438 Parliament Street in Toronto until February 16 when it wraps up with a panel discussion.
Another exhibition, “Reggae or Not: The Birth of Dancehall Culture in Jamaica and Toronto” by photographer, Beth Lesser, is being presented by Wedge Curatorial Projects at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto until February 28.
It documents the history of reggae and dancehall music, celebrating the history of Jamaican musicians of the 1970s and 80s. Both dancehall exhibits opened on February 1.
Ska will also be featured in “Gimme One Riddim,” by Jasmyn Fyffe and Natasha Powell, in association with Obsidian Theatre Company at Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto in mid-March.
“We are in 1963. Ska music. A new sound, a new musical revolution, a new meaning, a new life, a new creation of history influencing the island of Jamaica and the world forever,” reads a synopsis.
An(other) Antilles: The Sir George Williams Affair and the Black Caribbean Experience in 1960’s Montreal, a documentary showing and visual media exhibit, explores the experiences of Black Caribbean peoples’ and their arrival stories during the 1969 Sir George Williams Affair in Montreal, Canada. “The stories shared, wind through immigration, race, and the small but formidable Black Power movement in Montreal,” notes the series’ program.This will be held at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto.
Masquerade, a fashion show fused with an art exhibition and elements of a masked ball party, by Chine design & Afrotropolis Arts Collective will also be held at Daniel’s Spectrum.
In Montreal, MASSIMADI: a festival of Afro-Caribbean lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) films and documentaries, is being held from February 4-9 at the Cinematheque Quebecoise.
For a complete schedule of the events happening in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa, visit td.com/ThenandNow.