The Hamilton Spectator

‘Space has to be made for Black artists’

Black Artists Union exhibits work at Centre[3]


A new exhibition by a group of artists wants to show how cooperatio­n can transform art.

“WIP” — Work in Progress — is a collection of work curated by Jemini Baptiste, Oreka James, Sylvia Limbana and Ekow Stone, all members of the Black Artists Union (BAU).

Formed by emerging artists in 2016, the Toronto-based collective supports and highlights the work of Black artists in local communitie­s.

Last year, the group was part of the Incite Foundation Residency for artists at Centre[3] — an artistrun centre on James Street North.

Through the residency, the artists worked individual­ly and together, using different art approaches such as screen printing, painting, video and installati­on.

Stone said many of the pieces at the exhibition are not “fully complete,” showing the residency’s experiment­ation and creative process.

“We wanted to have a show that represente­d what each of the artists was working on,” Stone said.

The 27-year-old studied Environmen­t and Urban Sustainabi­lity at Toronto Metropolit­an University and is a youth engagement coordinato­r at FoodShare in Toronto.

When he is not managing vegetable production or coordinati­ng educationa­l programmin­g, Stone is in the studio with a pen, exploring themes of creation, origins, and transforma­tion through art.

At museums, you can find him in the ancient civilizati­on section.

“I explore those worlds through my creative practice and depict different happenings fictionall­y and non-fictionall­y with my work of the beginning of the world and time,” Stone said.

Stone divides his time between being an educator and an artist, but managing both can be challengin­g. He said commuting from Toronto to Hamilton was “hard and timeconsum­ing.”

“If anything goes wrong during the process — when you are working with screen-printing — you have to start all over again,” Stone said. “Getting there (to Hamilton) and dedicating time to all that stuff was the most challengin­g.”

Stone said the collective has influenced and impacted each other’s art practice throughout the residency.

“There are a lot of elements in my work that were influenced by Sylvia encouragin­g me to use colour,” Stone said. “Almost every piece (at the exhibition) has a bit of the other

Black Artists Union group members from left to right: Oreka James, Sylvia Limbana, Ekow Stone, and Jemini Baptiste.

artist in the piece.”

Stone said it was a great experience to exhibit his work at the Centre[3], and he looks forward to coming back to Hamilton. “We really enjoyed that space in particular.”

Centre[3]’s artistic director Lesley Loksi Chan said young artists must have the time and space to “explore their craft and stretch in new directions.

“Self-representa­tion is saying no to dominant culture telling us who we are, who we can be, what we can make, what ‘good art’ is,” Chan said.

Stone recommends visitors take time with the exhibition and “definitely” open up a piece of mystery furniture on display.

For Jemini Baptiste — also part of Incite’s art residency — visitors should consider practising some form of art after going to the exhibit.

“I hope people look at the art and go make something of their own and search inside themselves and start creating,” Baptiste said. “Art is just practice.”

Baptiste said the art pieces are complete and part of an upcoming larger piece.

Baptiste recently joined BAU and defines the collective as “a reflection of the real world” where artists meet people from different background­s and experience­s.

“I’m thankful to have met other Black artists that opened me into a world with many other people,” Baptiste said. “It gave me gratitude to walk alongside other artists whose art I genuinely enjoy.”

The artist said, “space has to be made” for Black artists and that Centre[3] was “kind and intentiona­l” to ask how the collective wanted to brand themselves for the exhibition — and added, “there is no excuse” at this point not to be intentiona­l with diversity.

“An intentiona­l way of doing it is putting the control in somebody else’s hand,” Baptiste said. “That is the only way I see diversity happen.”

That control includes representa­tion all year round.

Baptiste said the attention Black artists receive this month is “deserved and expected,” but it shouldn’t stop on March 1.

“I would suggest — don’t expect Black people — during Black history month — to fit your diversity quota.”

While in university, Baptiste felt pressured by professors to fill some of these quotas and only produce Black art. “You should allow Black people to make art about nature, portraits, landscapes. Not just Black bodies and Black art.”

“Personally, I do not want to be the sole representa­tion for my entire community,” Baptiste said. “It’s not possible, and I don’t want to.”

Baptiste said the Hamilton art community feels more friendly, and producing art in the city felt like a way of “escaping” Toronto’s “intensity and pressure.”

“In Hamilton, you are allowed just to be,” Baptiste said. “Hamilton is communal, supportive and friendly.”

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 ?? ?? Installati­on view of works by BAU member Ekow Stone.
Installati­on view of works by BAU member Ekow Stone. CENTRE[3]
 ?? ?? Sylvia Limbana. “Ladybugs and Gentleworm­s,” 2022.
Sylvia Limbana. “Ladybugs and Gentleworm­s,” 2022.

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