The AGO Department celebrates its first year with an exhibition that explores the history of the Caribbean

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A department of the Art Gallery of Ontario that brings together art from Africa and the African diaspora is celebrating its first year and first comprehensive exhibition.

AGO’s Global Africa and Diaspora Arts Department, established last October, organized the exhibition titled “Fragments of Epic Memory”, featuring works by more than 30 artists of Caribbean descent. Many of these artists are based in Toronto and Canada. The exhibition, which opened on September 1, 2021, will run until February 21, 2022.

“Fragments of Epic Memory” includes historical photographs, paintings, papier-mâché, sculptures and multimedia experiences. All the works are rooted in the Caribbean after 1838.

The exhibition, freely organized in chronological order, highlights the arrival of commercial photography in the region in the 1840s and the impact of the post-emancipation period on the present day.

Julie Crooks, curator of AGO’s Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, said the exhibit includes more than 200 photographs from the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, which AGO acquired in 2019. Crooks organized the exposure.

The Montgomery Collection itself contains over 3,500 historical images from 34 countries, including Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. The images are studio portraits, landscapes and tourist sights and the photos document the lands, people and cultures. The collection covers the period from 1840 to 1950 and includes images produced by regional and international photographers and studios.

“We’ve been thinking about this exhibit since 2019, when we acquired the Montgomery Caribbean Photography Collection,” Crooks told CBC Toronto over the weekend.

Photographs exhibited at the AGO as part of the Fragments of Epic Memory exhibition. (Michael Aitkens / CBC)

Crooks said it took about two years for the AGO to put on the show. She was responsible for sorting and selecting the photos from the Montgomery collection.

“What you see in the collection is the kind of experience people have lived in the mainly British Caribbean, but also the French Caribbean and a bit of the Hispanic Caribbean.”

Crooks said the exhibit is important to Canada because Caribbean communities have existed in Canada for a long time.

“Caribbean individuals have been here since the 1910s. It’s a Caribbean story, a Caribbean story, but also a Canadian story. We don’t make enough use of this story, especially through visual culture or photography. rare opportunity to see this moment in history through photography, ”she said.

Crooks said the exhibit was personal to her because her mother was from Barbados and the exhibit curation gave her the opportunity to look at her own story, gain insight and knowledge, as well. as the history of visual arts and practice in the region.

“For me, it was personal, but it had wider implications for telling stories like this.”

Nelson House, one of the works of art that make up the AGO’s exhibition, Fragments of Epic Memory. (Michael Aitkens / CBC)

Two highlights of the exhibition are the works commissioned by AGO. One is Moko Jumbie, a five-meter-high sculpture by Anglo-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové.

“Inspired by aspects of the African masquerade and Trinidad carnival, it features a masked figure adorned with antique glass beads, cowbells and golden Air Jordan sneakers, standing on towering stilts,” AGO said. in a press release.

Moko Jumbie is on display at Walker Court, the central atrium of AGO.

“Guardian having traveled to the region to protect enslaved peoples from evil, the figure of Moko Jumbie mixes the mythologies of the African diaspora: in Central Africa, ‘Moko’ refers to a healer, while ‘Jumbie’ is a Caribbean term. denoting spirits. in the early 1900s, he was a key figure in carnival celebrations in Trinidad and the Caribbean, ”continues AGO.

The second highlight of the exhibition is Feeding Trafalgar Square by Toronto artist Sandra Brewster. It is a portrait of his mother, a large format photo transfer on wood.

“The latest in a series of photographic tributes to his Guyana-born parents, Brewster’s blue-tinted image connects the past and the present, turning a joyful moment into a moving meditation on what it means to be moved,” a said the AGO in the press release.

Moko Jumbie is a five-meter-tall sculpture by Anglo-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové. (Jessica Ng / CBC)

Feeding Trafalgar Square is a large-scale photo transfer onto wood by Toronto artist Sandra Brewster. (Jessica Ng / CBC)

As for the Department of World Africa and Diaspora Arts, AGO said when it was established last year that it would expand its collections, exhibitions and programs of historical, modern and contemporary art from Africa and of the African diaspora.

The AGO said his creation formalizes work in progress at the art gallery for several years.

Stephan Jost, CEO of AGO, said in a press release in October 2020: “Engaging in the art of global Africa must be at the heart of any program that presents a global vision of visual culture, because its multiple histories and influences intersect, deepen, and in many ways complicate our understanding of Western and contemporary art.

“This new department brings together curators and educators from inside and outside the building, supported by the community, to help us tell these stories.”

Jost added that the creation of the department follows the creation in 2017 of an Indigenous and Canadian art department.

“The museum has to be flexible and responsive if we are to better reflect where we live.”

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