Hold­ing space in the art world

Unad­dressed ten­sions make it harder for BIPOC artists’ work to be rec­og­nized, or even seen.


Noc­turne ap­pli­ca­tions will now in­clude a se­ries of op­tional self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion ques­tions about race, gen­der and re­li­gion, as a di­rect re­sult of dis­course about the gap in rep­re­sen­ta­tion and vis­i­bil­ity of Black, In­dige­nous and Per­sons of Colour within the lo­cal vis­ual arts com­mu­nity.

Kelly Markovich, the pro­gram­ming di­rec­tor for Oc­to­ber 14’s Noc­turne festival, says this year was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the event’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. There was no way to en­sure artist di­ver­sity in the ap­pli­ca­tion process, and there never has been. “We re­al­ized this year that was prob­lem­atic,” she says.

The heavy dy­nam­ics of the rel­a­tively un­pub­li­cized and un­spo­ken-about racial ten­sions in the lo­cal vis­ual arts com­mu­nity were il­lu­mi­nated dur­ing the run-up to Noc­turne in a panel hosted by the festival, “Mov­ing For­ward, Look­ing B(l)ack: Vis­ual Art in Nova Sco­tia.”

The event, held Oc­to­ber 13, cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity for the pub­lic to take in a can­did dis­cus­sion between Black, Afro-In­dige­nous and African Nova Sco­tian artists and cu­ra­tors in­clud­ing Pamela Ed­monds, Lu­cie Chan, Jade Peek and Bria Miller. The di­a­logue ref­er­enced the in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity of pre­dom­i­nantly white in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing gal­leries, schools and ad­min­is­tra­tions, in the vis­ual arts com­mu­nity.

The panel held a spot­light to the racism hosted in the lo­cal in­dus­try at large. Miller, an Afro-In­dige­nous vis­ual artist, ac­tivist and mu­si­cian, says the chasm in fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion that’s left thou­sands of works by BIPOC artists out of gen­eral pub­lic aware­ness be­came fully re­al­ized for her when she was in­vited to visit the vault of the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia. She got to see tens of thou­sands of pieces of art, but not a sin­gle one was by a Black artist.

“It felt like I was at a funeral,” she says. “Any art that had been cre­ated within that gap had been ne­glected fully and by choice.” It was un­set­tling for her, be­cause it be­came clear which nar­ra­tives were wel­comed and val­ued by cu­ra­tors of “Nova Sco­tian art” and that it’s re­flec­tive of a deep, dis­crim­i­na­tory his­tory.

Chris Shapones, an in­tern at Vis­ual Arts Nova Sco­tia and pro­gram­ming com­mit­tee mem­ber for Noc­turne, con­ducted re­search on the topic that was cat­a­lyst to the panel. Her cu­rios­ity was sparked by The Coast’s Jan­uary 26 story (New Art 2017 by Mol­lie Cronin) that fea­tured a sub­head about Peek cu­rat­ing “the first ex­hi­bi­tion of solely Afro-In­dige­nous artists since the 1990s.” Shapones learned the is­sue was not an ab­sence of art­work, but a lack of pub­lic dis­course. “It struck me as strange that it would just stop,” she says.

Peek, a 22-year-old NSCAD stu­dent and self-iden­ti­fy­ing ur­ban Mi’kmaq and Black Afro-In­dige­nous Nova Sco­tian woman of trans ex­pe­ri­ence, tack­les this is­sue through two prin­ci­ple facets: Academia and vis­ual arts. She wants to see Black art and Black knowl­edge be­ing “prop­erly ar­tic­u­lated” in pro­vin­cial cur­ric­ula for schools. “What I want to see for Black artists is space,” she says. “I want to see space and I want to see fund­ing and I want to see dif­fer­ent ways that we can hold space.”

This theme was cen­tral to her Noc­turne 10 ex­hibit, BIPOC Bus, where mem­bers of the BIPOC com­mu­nity cre­ated a space they could invite oth­ers into—a re­ver­sal of the way space is usu­ally held. Art, says Peek, is “an­other way of emo­tion­ally con­nect­ing with some­body and hav­ing the dis­course that al­lows us to un­der­stand each other’s ex­pe­ri­ence. And we can move for­ward to­gether.”


Jade Peek wants to see more space held for Black artists in art in­sti­tu­tions and schools.

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