Race, Identity, & Historical Related Art Exhibits

By Jaina Kelly

PC: ROM

1. “Here We Are: Black Canadian Contemporary Art

This Black contemporary art exhibit opens at the Royal Ontario Museum on January 27, 2018. It will feature the original works of nine artists who explore themes of race, art, and historical identity within Canada. Curators of the exhibit call it a recognition of “both the longstanding and current relevance of Blackness to the overall fabric of Canada.” The artists featured include Sandra Brewster, Michèle Pearson Clarke, Chantal Gibson, Sylvia D. Hamilton, Bushra Junaid, Charmaine Lurch, Esmaa Mohamoud, Dawit L. Petros and Gordon Shadrach. Additionally, Afua Cooper and Jessica Karuhanga will engage in performance art, and NourbeSe Philip, a poet and lawyer, will deliver a keynote talk. This exhibition begins a year after the ROM delivered an apology for a racist exhibition held in 1989 called “Into the Heart of Africa” which displayed objects collected from Africa by missionaries and soldiers.

PC: The Power Plant

2. “The Field of Emotion

Artist Kader Attia opens his art exhibit this January at The Power Plant in Toronto. It evolves the artist’s idea that “our contemporary world is haunted by wounds of the past.” The notion of repair and healing has been a key part of Attia’s work in the last couple of years. The exhibit includes eighteen wooden carvings done by Attia, which reflect the injury and disfigurement experienced by soldiers in World War I. The exhibit will also screen a special film at the Power Plant show which has been compiled through interviews with experts in the fields of anthropology, psychiatry, art, and art history. This film will feature narratives which express Canada’s history with slavery and colonization. The film will also attempt to capture the subsequent impact of the act of not only denying, but also of recognizing these wounds, and the subsequent effect that this has on both “the individual and collective body.”

PC: The Power Plant

3. “The Song of the Germans”

This exhibit will run at The Power Plant in Toronto from January 27, 2018 to May 13, 2018. It takes its shape through a collection of audio installations created by artist Emeka Ogboh. These installations act as a means of expressing “how private, public, and collective memories and histories are translated, transformed and encoded into sound and sonority.” Ogboh seeks to understand how sound translates into relationships, and thus sets the stage for important discussions regarding immigration, globalization and post-colonialism. Throughout his work, Ogboh has interpreted the flow of urban soundscapes in cities such as Lagos, Nigeria, which can be found in his collection “Lagos Soundscapes.” Ogboh’s work at The Power Plant will feature an audio recording of a choir of African immigrants singing the German national anthem in their mother tongues: Igbo, Yoruba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo and Lingala.

4. In Search of the Lost History of Chinese Migrants and the Transcontinental Railroads”

This exhibit, located at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington, tells the largely underrepresented story of the Chinese labourers of the 19th century. In 2005, artist Zhi Lin began sketching watercolour images of the journey along the first transcontinental railroad built by Chinese migrants. In 2013, he began painting images of the tragedies and sufferings created by the labour intensive and dangerous railroad work. These images specifically focus on the harsh difficulties the Chinese people faced as they constructed tracks across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Lin’s work addresses the United States legacy with racism and labour, which was additionally expressed through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

5. “Us and Them”

This exhibit just finished running at the Musee de L’homme in Paris, France. However, it is still available for online viewing. “Us and Them” ran until January 8, 2018, and its main focus captured the science of racism and prejudice. It took shape as a multimedia exhibit, incurring three main sections, each of which explore why humans discriminate and how this is understood through scientific theories. Topics within the exhibit included the construction of race itself, the idea of ‘essentialism’ (identifying people simplistically in a complex world), and the genetic evidence that race does not exist. Issues such as Nazism in Europe, as well as the Rwandan Genocide, were feature themes in Us and Them. 

6. “First Peoples Hall”

This exhibit, located at the Canadian Museum of History, “celebrates the history, diversity, creativity, resourcefulness, and endurance” of Canada’s First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people. It includes more than 2,000 objects, both contemporary and historical, which depict the traditional cultures of the original people of this land. It also details the effects of the invasion of Europeans on the lives of Indigenous people throughout various processes of colonization. While this exhibit is more a celebration of Indigenous culture rather than a critical focus on the negatives of settler-colonialism, it provides important context into the history of our Indigenous people. Certainly, educating ourselves on the vibrancy of Canada’s Indigenous people is a huge part of respecting our land and reducing our prejudices.

7. “Race: Are We So Different?”

This exhibit is currently running and located at the Museum of Man in San Diego, California. In a multimedia and interactive collection of displays, it seeks to unravel our prevailing ideas of race and identity. The exhibit offers the language to discuss histories of race and prejudice and consequently, the ways in which people can handle these topics in a productive way.  This exhibition is adopted from the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota. It is now considered a permanent part of the Museum of Man, and acts as an essential discussion piece for students of all ages in developing understandings of the origins of prejudice in the United States and worldwide. On their website, the museum states that this exhibit is a “platform to engage in feeling, thinking, acting, and reflecting on race and identity; and to raise awareness, build community and positively impact the ways we treat each other.”