Position As Desired/Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection

Source: rom.on.ca

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), in collaboration with Toronto's Wedge Curatorial Projects, presents Position As Desired /Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection. The 26 photographic works, ranging from rare vintage portraits of the first African immigrants to Canada to contemporary works by four emerging artists, document the experiences of African Canadians. The exhibition is on display from Saturday, October 2, 2010 to Sunday, March 27, 2011 in the Wilson Canadian Heritage Exhibition Room of the ROM's Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada.

Dr. Kenneth Montague of Wedge Curatorial Projects, a Toronto-based arts organization with a mandate of increasing public awareness and understanding of visual arts with an emphasis on African and Diasporic artists, is guest curator of Position As Desired. Montague states, “From the early days of my collecting, I recognized the importance of creating a space for emerging Canadian photographers. In partnering with the ROM, while there are many other stories to be told beyond those selected for this exhibition, I hope that this small, highly subjective showing of works will further promote discussion about how we all feel about our own Canadian experience.”

Joining Dr. Montague in this project is Dr. Silvia Forni, Associate Curator of Ethnology in the ROM's World Cultures department. She adds, “Position As Desired is a great example of the kind of collaboration allowing the ROM to expand its mission, offering a more nuanced presentation of issues that reflect our visitors' interests and concerns. In introducing the topic of black identity in a multicultural setting, the ROM hopes that a new dialogue emerges with multiple voices and stories.”

Comprising three sections, Position As Desired showcases works from the collections of Toronto's Wedge Collection. An Historical Perspective, the exhibition's first section, spans 1896 to 2008 and displays a range of historical photographs and contemporary works including rare documents of some of the first African immigrants to Canada. One photographic highlight is John Hall (Aged 114 Years), dated to 1896. The subject lived and worked for nearly 50 years as the town crier in Owen Sound following an escape from slavery in Kentucky by way of the Underground Railroad. He died in 1900 at the age of 117. Also included in this section are photographs, circa 1960s, from the Montague family album. Documenting the family's celebratory moments and passages of time, these joyful family images belie the racial discrimination and isolation often experienced by black immigrants when moving into predominantly white communities.

The exhibition's second segment, Exploring Identity Art in the 1990s, continues to poignantly explore notions of identity, memory, history and community, with the showcased artists particularly focusing on the precarious position of black subjects in Canada. The exhibition pays homage to the pioneering and bold early works of Toronto-based Buseje Bailey, David Zapparoli, Michael Chambers, and Stella Fakiyesi, photographers known to draw upon their personal experiences in their work.

Featured Contemporary Artists, the exhibition's final section, showcases four contemporary artists: Christina Leslie, Megan Morgan, Dawit L. Petros and Stacey Tyrell. All the works reveal histories in which African Canadians have reconciled their positions in the Diaspora. Notions of family, as well as individuality and diversity, are among the artists' collective themes. The merging of these topics is particularly evident in Stacey Tyrell's Position As Desired; this 2001 digital work from an original circa 1960s photograph depicts the photographer's mother, then a recent immigrant to the United Kingdom, posing with three new friends.

Stacey Tyrell studied photography at the Ontario College of Art and Design. In 2002, her work was selected by Gallery 44 in Toronto for Proof, its annual survey of top emerging Canadian photographers. Her work has appeared in publications such as Prefix Photo, Photography Now, and is part of the Canadian Heritage Ministry's permanent collection. Tyrell currently lives and works in New York City.

Christina Leslie studied photography at the Ontario College of Art and Design, earning her BFA in 2006. Her work has been featured in evolutionizing Cultural Identity: Photographs and the Changing Face of Immigration at Oakland University, and Rockstone & Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut. She currently lives and works in Toronto.

Megan Morgan earned a dual BA in Art and Art History at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College in 2009. Her work has been exhibited in group shows including Becoming, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, and at a recent solo project for Toronto's Gallery 44. Morgan is currently pursuing her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Dawit L. Petros earned his MFA at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, his BFA at Montreal's Concordia University and his BA at the University of Saskatchewan. He has exhibited work in solo and group shows throughout Canada and internationally, including Flow at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Becoming at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, Remix at Prefix ICA in Toronto, and Strike Black at the Observatoire 4 in Montréal. Petros has received Fulbright and Bombardier Internationalist fellowships, as well as an Art Matters Foundation grant and has participated in residencies at the Center for Photography, Woodstock, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Petros lives and works in New York.

Wedge Curatorial Projects, a Toronto community arts organization aiming to increase public awareness and understanding of visual arts with an emphasis on African and Diasporic artists, was founded in 1997 by Dr. Kenneth Montague. The Wedge Gallery was conceived as both a private and public experience, with the original gallery literally wedged inside the narrow hallways of Montague's home. Today, Montague's collection, examining black subjectivity and cultural representation, comprises over 200 original works by artists from Canada, the United States and throughout the Diaspora. It also houses an extensive catalogue of resource materials, including books, art journals, newspapers, magazines, and exhibition and artist documentation and lends works to international traveling exhibitions. Wedge Curatorial Projects provides seminars, lectures, and community-based workshops and Dr. Montague is a sought-after speaker and collaborator.

A catalogue, entitled Position As Desired /Exploring African Canadian Identity: Photographs from the Wedge Collection, documents this significant collaboration between artists, writers and curators. The publication includes reproductions of selected works, an introduction by curator Dr. Kenneth Montague, foreward by ROM Associate Curator, Dr. Silvia Forni, and an exhibition essay by Julie Crooks, Doctoral Candidate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK. It also features a transcribed interview between featured artists Christina Leslie, Megan Morgan, Dawit L. Petros and Stacey Tyrell, moderated by Dr. Warren Crichlow, of York University's Faculty of Education. The catalogue, published by Wedge Curatorial Projects, will be available in the ROM Museum Store, retailing for $25 plus taxes.

Programming complements Position As Desired throughout its engagement, including exhibition tours by curator Kenneth Montague for the ROM's Young Patron Circle on October 13, 2010 at 6:30pm and Art Toronto (Toronto International Art Fair) on October 29, 2010. In fall 2010, the exhibition will support an educational component, a music element and a film evening. An all-day symposium, taking place on March 5, 2011, will include artists, academics and cultural workers addressing the issues of African Canadian identity.

Position As Desired is included with paid general ROM admission. Reduced admission prices apply on Friday nights, presented by Sun Life Financial. Visit www.rom.on.ca or www.wedgecuratorialprojects.org for information on this and other exciting projects.

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