A new show at the Libby Leshgold Gallery at Emily Carr University features work by nine Black women artists who participated in the first national exhibition addressing the exclusion of Black women artists from Canadian art.
Curated by Andrea Fatona and Nya Lewis, Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice reflects on the groundbreaking 1989 Diasporic African Women’s Art Collective (DAWA) exhibition, Black Wimmin: When and Where We Enter.
“I am honoured to be a part of reintroducing the DAWA legacy collective and all participating artists to western Canada,” Nya Lewis, director/curator of Artspeak Gallery and the inaugural Research Fellow at the Vancouver Art Gallery, says. “This landmark exhibit re-centers the voices of Black women artists whose practices and cultural networks collectively shaped (and continue to shape) cultural discourse concerning place-making and the institutional histories of Black women and exhibition making. It is particularly exciting to think alongside Dr. Andrea Fatona whose writing and curatorial practice has been a critical guiding light for the visibility of Black women artists and the documentation and engagement of Black Canadian cultural production.”
Featuring primarily new commissioned works, Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice spotlights the diversity of perspectives and approaches that comprise Black Canadian women’s art today.
The title of the exhibition refers to a key theme of tending to Black histories, presents and futures. It also refers to the labour involved in such a practice. Spirituality, memorialization, commemoration, play, transhistorical memory, anti-Black racism and intergenerational knowledge-transfer also emerge as themes among the works in the show.
The range of artistic approaches foregrounds the role of extra-rational experiences, such as dreams and visions, in fostering connections to lost knowledge, kin and a deep desire for Black people’s liberation.
“The Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice exhibition is a small gesture toward rectifying the erasure of Black Canadian women artists' contribution to Canadian art histories,” says Andrea Fatona, an independent curator and associate professor at OCAD University. “It makes visible more inclusive narratives and practices of collectivity that have grounded these artists’ capabilities to survive and thrive within an anti-Black society and art world. Why is this important? It brings the history of Black feminist art practice into the present for new generations of Black artists in Canada.”
Having toured galleries in Toronto and Montreal, the exhibition’s arrival at the Libby Leshgold will feature specially tailored programming. Workshops, screenings and conversations with local and visiting artists are among the events in a series co-produced by Artspeak Gallery and the Black Arts Centre titled What is a Gathering?
Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice will also include a reading room organized by Artspeak director/curator Nya Lewis. There, visitors will be able to browse archival material, ephemera and current publications related to the cultural production of Black women 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,” reads the exhibition text.
Through paintings, photography, text, installation, video and sculpture, the exhibition “highlights the aesthetic and everyday practices of these artists who critically challenge the structures that delineate Black women’s lives in the current moment.”
Practice as Ritual / Ritual as Practice is on view at the Libby Leshgold Gallery at Emily Carr University from Sept. 15 to Nov. 5, 2023. Attendance is free. The public is also invited to a free opening reception at 6pm on Sept. 14.
Visit the Libby Leshgold Gallery online to learn more about their programming and initiatives.