Never Apart ex­h­bi­itions ex­plore Black and Indige­nous iden­ti­ties

Never Apart’s vernissage cel­e­brates Black and Indige­nous his­to­ries

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Sarah Shahid Culture Writer

Lo­cated near Jean-talon Mar­ket, Never Apart is a non­profit gallery with a pow­er­ful vi­sion of bring­ing so­cial change and sup­port­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties through the arts. The gallery’s win­ter 2017 vernissage, held on Jan­uary 26, cel­e­brated Black and Indige­nous her­itage. The ex­hi­bi­tions in­cluded a mul­ti­tude of nar­ra­tives from Cana­dian and non-Cana­dian artists fo­cus­ing on is­sues such as re­silience, iden­tity, dis­place­ment, and sur­veil­lance.

The ground floor dis­played San­dra Brew­ster’s “As­sem­blage,” which con­sists of sev­eral pho­tomon­tages ex­plor­ing the anonymity and gen­er­al­iza­tion im­posed on black in­di­vid­u­al­ity. The col­lages con­sisted of sil­hou­ettes called “Smiths” made out of cutouts from a phone di­rec­tory list­ing “Mo­hammeds.” Of­ten, the sil­hou­ettes were coated with white paint, and some­times with black paint, ob­scur­ing the con­tent. Un­ti­tled Smith (White Out) and Un­ti­tled Smith (Black Out) were po­si­tioned against ad­ja­cent walls in such a way that the viewer had to walk over to see each piece in iso­la­tion, even as the ti­tles re­ferred to each other. Brew­ster’s ex­hi­bi­tion de­mands se­ri­ous con­tem­pla­tion from its viewer on the stereo­typ­i­cal no­tion of mono­lithic Black com­mu­ni­ties, hu­mour­ing the idea that all Smiths or Mo­hammeds are re­lated.

In the small theatre next to the main gallery, a short film by Ako­sua Adoma Owusu played on loop. The black and white film Reluc­tantly Queer showed a young di­as­poric Ghana­ian in­di­vid­ual go­ing about a rest­less day while a let­ter to their mother is nar­rated in the back­ground. The let­ter ex­poses a con­flict be­tween be­ing queer and be­ing with fam­ily in Ghana, where ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is po­lit­i­cally con­tro­ver­sial. The film res­onates strong and con­flict­ing emo­tions of dis­place­ment and iden­tity. Sim­i­larly, artist Mikael Owunna’s “Limit(less)” de­picted the lives of African im­mi­grants in doc­u­men­tarystyle photography, nav­i­gat­ing aes­thet­i­cally the space be­tween be­ing di­as­poric and be­ing queer. Jo­sué Azor’s “Erotes: Love, Sex, Magic” took a spin on this an­gle, ex­plor­ing the LGBTQ culture in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Owunna and Azor’s pieces, ex­hib­ited across each other in the same room, con­veyed a sense of in­ti­macy in the way the pho­tog­ra­phers por­trayed their mod­els.

Owunna and Azor’s pieces were in con­trast to Kali Spitzer’s “An Ex­plo­ration of Re­silience,” which blurred the lines be­tween in­ti­macy and de­tach­ment. Spitzer’s ex­hibit took up most of the up­per gallery with por­traits of Indige­nous and mixed her­itage peo­ple from the artist’s own com­mu­nity, cel­e­brat­ing their ex­pres­sions of re­silience. Us­ing tra­di­tional stylis­tic tech­niques of por­trai­ture, Spitzer chal­lenged the voyeurism associated with rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in main­stream me­dia. Each por­trait ex­hib­ited the per­son­al­ity of the sub­ject, incorporating props, poses, tat­toos, among other el­e­ments. While each por­trait car­ried a strong sense of self, thereby ad­dress­ing the viewer in­ti­mately, it was the same el­e­ment that also de­tached the viewer from the art­work. The viewer was not the agent in com­pre­hend­ing th­ese por­traits be­cause each sub­ject’s un­der­stand­ing of them­selves was se­cure enough to re­sist any ex­te­rior in­ter­pre­ta­tion. In this way, the artist sub­verts the gaze on th­ese por­traits and the com­mu­ni­ties from which the por­trayed indi- vid­u­als come from in a col­lec­tive act of re­silience.

The night con­cludes with Dries De­poorter’s “Jay­walk­ing” in a small room of the up­per gallery. The dig­i­tal art in­stal­la­tion com­bin­ing pri­vate data of the artist and other strangers walk­ing across a street light. The in­stal­la­tion con­tains a red buzzer which the viewer can press in or­der to re­port a jay­walker to the po­lice. The art­work con­fronts the viewer with the vi­o­lent na­ture of sur­veil­lance and polic­ing in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. In the back­drop of Black His­tory Month, this art­work takes up new mean­ing, an­tag­o­niz­ing is­sues of surveil- lance dis­par­ity sub­jected to Black and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Fi­nally, we must rec­og­nize and cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tions of cu­ra­tor Andy Wil­liams, who was able to de­pict the mul­ti­fold lay­ers of be­ing Black and/or Indige­nous. In­de­pen­dent projects like Never Apart’s ex­hi­bi­tions high­light the need to cre­ate spa­ces for marginal­ized groups to tell their sto­ries in their own way. As op­posed to larger com­mer­cial gal­leries and mu­se­ums in Mon­treal where the ma­jor­ity of cu­ra­tors are white men, Wil­liams’ ex­plo­ration of Black and Indige­nous iden­ti­ties through young and con­tem­po­rary artists is re­fresh­ing and vi­tal.

Sarah Shahid | Pho­tog­ra­pher

Never Apart hosts its win­ter vernissage.

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