Opening reception | Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice

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DZI AN transition
Image: DZI..AN, Transition, 2022, installation view, A Space Gallery, Toronto. Photo: Selina Whittak

The Libby Leshgold Gallery is pleased to present Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice, a touring exhibition curated by Andrea Fatona and Nya Lewis.


Sep 14, 2023 6:00pm – 9:00pm

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Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice is a group exhibition featuring the work of nine Black Women artists who participated in the historical 1989 DAWA exhibition, Black Wimmin: When and Where We Enter, the first national exhibition to address the exclusion of Black women artists from the visual landscape of Canada. The exhibition attests to and affirms the heterogeneity of perspectives and forms that constitute Black Canadian women’s art today. Featuring primarily new commissioned works, including paintings, photography, text, installation, video, and sculpture, the exhibition highlights the sustained aesthetic and everyday practices of these artists who critically challenge the structures that delineate Black women’s lives in the current moment.

The title of the exhibition refers to an overarching theme that emerges in the artworks—one of tending to Black histories, presents, and futures—and to the labour involved in such a practice. The range of artworks and artistic approaches included draws attention to the role of knowledge gained via extra-rational modes, such as dreams and visions, in creating connections to lost knowledge, kin, and a deep desire for Black people's liberation. Spirituality, memorialization, commemoration, play, transhistorical memory, anti-Black racism, and intergenerational knowledge transfer are key themes that emerge.

Following previous showings at A Space (Toronto) and articule (Montréal), the iteration at the Libby Leshgold Gallery will feature What is a lineage?/What is a Gathering?, a robust series of events co-produced with Artspeak Gallery and the Black Arts Centre that includes workshops, screenings and discussion events with local and visiting artists. The exhibition will also include a reading room organized by Artspeak Director/Curator Nya Lewis that will offer visitors a chance to browse archival material, ephemera, and current publications relating to Black Women cultural production in Canada. Working in collaboration, we seek to expand the footprint of the exhibition to include narratives from the West Coast, and to mirror and honour the collective efforts–of primarily Black women artists, curators and researchers–who have brought these practices back into public view.

Artist Bios:

Buseje Bailey works across a variety of media attempting to grasp the knowledge of the African diasporic humanity in this modern environment, and with its complexity, diversity, and vulnerabilities. Bailey explores the hybridity of her identities – Afro-Jamaican, woman, Canadian, etc. – and how she engages with each label /identity when called upon in her work. She applies the relevant medium with the awareness of exploitation, reflecting on the wider community and the implication of her work on the diaspora, of which she is a part of. Bailey’s creations rest between the transitional space of being and becoming, where one label stops and the other begins, with questions such as, “Who am I? Who they are? And who do they believe me/we to be?” at each intersection. Working with lens-based media such as photo and video, she draws inspiration from mainstream media offering that “The very media used to categorize and label… I’ve used to galvanize my reaction.”

Marie Booker’s ritual garments, textiles, regalia, performance artist designs and drawings express her affinity to nature, whilst melding in her ancestral lineage and dreamtime recollections. Since the late 1980s and influenced by her dear friend and mentor, textile artist Chloe Onari, Booker has worked with plant life to colour her garments. Booker is also a percussionist and Master Gardener. Moving her focus from djembe, dun dun set, and the krin, she is presently teaching herself the balafon as well as creating a public “kitchen garden” planted with Virginia First Nations and Enslaved African healing herbs and foods. The hues of Booker’s current work are achieved with madder and plant life from her garden and adorned with bones and found objects such as feathers and shells. Ebe Yiye! (It will get better!)

Claire Carew is an artist and poet. As a visual artist, she specializes in oil painting and sculpture. Since the 1980s, Carew has exhibited extensively including significant events such as the Romerias de Mayo festival and a solo exhibition in Holguin, Cuba in tribute to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Taking the adventurous road, Carew also travels globally; often alone seeking out beauty and remnants of times past in several countries, which she says is “Challenging at times yet rewarding.” Carew obtained her Masters of Fine Arts in San Miguel de Allende, México after successfully completing her studies at McGill University. Her paintings and sculptures are held in private collections and public institutions internationally and her poetry and art have been published in textbooks and magazines. Carew is a professional artist who continues to work in Canada and México creating visionary work to inspire many.

At the centre of DZI..AN’s practice is an inquiry: “What makes humans vibrate?” With an interest in creating powerful forms, she has been creating life-size sculptures for decades that encourage viewers to reflect on human rhythms. Working with a variety of materials, DZI..AN holds a keen interest in elements and materials such as earth, air, wood, metal and felt. Her interest in the thousand year-old medium of felting acts as a base material for these life-size sculptures, the size creating a familiar intimacy between viewers and the works. When working with metal, DZI..AN likens it to “drawing in space.”… I centre them on a balance point so they can vibrate in the wind.” DZI..AN’s environmental sculptures aim to invite viewers into the adventure of a moment, into an impression and may even stimulate the urge to whisper something to the objects as one is leaving.

Khadejha McCall was an artist and educator who began working with fibres as a medium in 1958. After a number of years of research and exploration with this medium, she excelled, consistently pushing the limits of the textiles she worked with. Khadejha came to be known for integrating third-generation photographic etching into her work through a fusion of silk screen and painting techniques, achieving a depth of recurring motifs through a methodical layering and painting over. Khadejha integrated family photos with Yoruba symbols from West Africa; these symbols profoundly linked to the family collective memory. Her work is a tribute to African diasporic historical continuity and rituals of memory, forming a spiritual foundation grounded in a Black feminist politic. Khadejha studied at Parsons School of Design and received a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University and a Masters of Education from McGill University. She exhibited extensively throughout Canada and the United States for over 50 years.

Mosa McNeilly is an artist, educator, and editor. In her interdisciplinary research, she brings encaustic, assemblage, and installation into conversation with clown, movement, and voice. In her Middle Passage memory work, Mosa reimagines the poetics of memorialization. Employing hybrid iconographies, she explores community activations of her installation as an embodied mourning praxis. Reflective of a creative practice that merges with ceremonial practice, Mosa’s work brings about an integration of the material with the ethereal. Grounded in the reparative labour of gathering and assembling, her work contemplates fragmentation and gestures toward wholeness. Mosa has exhibited at A Space Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, and Zig Zag Gallery, Toronto, and has performed at Lloyd Best Institute, Trinidad. Featured in Cosmic Underground Northside and Nuances of Blackness in the Canadian Academy, she has spoken at OCAD University, Dalhousie University, and Axené07 Gallery. The Hamilton Arts Council artist-in-residence 2021-22, Mosa holds an MES from York University.

Chloe Onari (born Clomin Onari Marshall) was an artist, trained nurse, and community builder with a multidisciplinary arts practice that spanned over 50 years. Chloe began her exploration of surface design and textile arts in the early 1970s using self-taught methods including working with natural dyes, batik, silkscreen, weaving, knitting, and jewelry. Throughout the 1990s, Chloe made several trips to Africa to further her learning and connections with Nigerian textile artists including Nike Olaniyi and Isaac Ojo Fajana. Chloe continued to expand her creative expression to include national-scale Canadian exhibitions, curation, community building, workshop coordination, and instructing with the Toronto District School Board. At the 1992 CELAFI (Festivals in Celebration of African Identity), she curated the Affinity exhibition for the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications. Living with Alzheimer’s for many years, Chloe Onari was cared for by her daughters, Karla and Natasha Smith in Toronto, Ontario.

Barbara Prézeau Stephenson has exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA, California, USA), Wallach Art Gallery of Columbia University (New York, USA), FROST Art Museum (Miami, USA), Grand Palais Museum (Paris, France), Museum of Haitian Art and MUPANAH (Haiti), as well as the Biennials of Havana, Dakar, Venice and Mercosur. In 1999, Prézeau Stephenson founded the cultural centre AfricAméricA Foundation, now the Georges Liautaud Community Museum in Haiti. In 2000, she launched the Transcultural Forum for Contemporary Art in Haiti. In Canada, she is a member of DAWA (2019 regrouping). She has published articles and books on contemporary art in the Caribbean and Haiti. Prézeau Stephenson is a current recipient of the Research and Creation Grant, Canada Council for the Arts.

Winsom Winsom does not separate her life and her art. Her life is her art – Her art is her life. Winsom’s work interprets the elements, land, animal, and human presence from the context of the Afro-centric value system where spirituality is central as “respect for the elements guides human passage.” Through a variety of media such as painting, sculpture, film and installation, connections are established between different levels of existence through symbols in line and colour. Winsom’s current imagery can be ascribed directly to the ancient African religion of Ifá and the Ashanti which have mediated the relationship between the land of the living and the dead with an organic living structure. Winsom studied at the Jamaica School of Art and received formal training guided by Barrington Watson and Albert Huie. In 2015, Winsom received an Honorary Doctorate from OCAD University and in 2018 exhibited “I Rise”, a major solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Andrea Fatona (Co-curator) is an independent curator and associate professor at OCAD University. Fatona was the former curator of contemporary art at the Ottawa Art Gallery, and has worked as the programme director at Video In, Vancouver, Co-Director of Artspeak Gallery, Vancouver, and Artistic Director of Artspace Gallery, Peterborough. Her curatorial practice is concerned with creating spaces of engagement for Black cultural producers in Canada. Some examples of her curatorial projects include: Queer Collaborations (1993), Across Borders (1995/6), Cadboro Bay: Index to an Incomplete History (1999), The Attack of the Sandwich Men (2001), Reading the Image: Poetics of the Black Diaspora (2006-2008), Fibred Optics (2009-10), Will Work for Food (2011), Land Marks (2013-14), Settling in Place (2018), and Winsom: I Rise (2018). Fatona is a Canada Research Chair, Tier II in Black Canadian Diasporic Cultural Production.

Nya Lewis (Co-curator)
Nya Lewis’s practice is a culmination of centuries of African resistance, love, questions, actions, study and embrace. Lewis’ sees her practice as a continuation of a long lineage of work undertaken by Black artists, curators, writers, activists and thinkers who blaze(d) a trail of critical discourse surrounding the Black experience. Her archival research based practice works across the disciplines of curating, writing and organizing. Her work is multivalent in form and expression but is always driven by the reimagining and reclaiming of community.

Lewis (MFA) is an independent curator/writer currently serving as the Director/curator of Artspeak Gallery, and the inaugural Research Fellow at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice is dedicated to the memory of Khadejha McCall and Chloe Onari.

This is a Diasporic African Women Artists (DAWA) Legacy Collective Exhibition, which originated at A Space (Toronto) and is circulated with assistance from the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Thank you to the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora for their generous support.