Artexte’s Blackity Calls Attention to the Visibility/Invisibility of the Black Canadian Artistic Archive - by Shelly Bahng and Leighetta (Lee) Kim

May 14th, 2022

Paul Litherland, 2021.

In many ways, Blackity is an exhibit of exhibits; it invites participants to engage with the question of archives, institutional memory, and the future of our collections. Most notably, Blackity sheds light on the evolution of Black Canadian artists within Artexte’s archives, while highlighting both the visibility and lack thereof from the 1970s to the present. 

As you enter the space, visitors are met with four open display cases that correspond to a respective time period. Along the walls, archival data is visualized through vertical bands, demonstrating increases and declines in archival content throughout the time periods. Blackity encourages visitors to engage with the materials of the exhibit: flip through pages, read, reflect and explore the available literature.
“I wanted to show how Black art is archived, how [Black art history] is and isn’t told,”said Dr. Joana Joachim, the curator of the exhibit. She remarks on how, especially in the early parts of the archive (which is only as old as the 1970s), there is the phenomenon of “Superstar Black Canadian Artists,” wherein few individuals are placed on pedestals, as if to represent the true diversity and breadth of Black Canadian Art. This tokenization evidently did not translate into the exploration of greater communities of Black artists at the time, despite their prominent presence.

Throughout the entirety of the collection, Joachim notes how “much of the archiving of Black art has been done by Black people – an intra-community effort,” rarely was there an effort “outside of this bubble in terms of critique, observing, and to archive.” For example, one of the artists featured in the exhibit was Khadejha McCall. In the earliest record of McCall’s work that Joachim could find, it is indicated that she had been making art for almost 30 years before. “Almost 30 years of her work is lost,” Joachim states. For other Black artists, all that is left is a single poster.

In the present time, Blackity reflects on an influx of representation aligned with surges of funding – especially after the murder of George Floyd and corresponding protests, which has enabled the work of Black artists. However, Joachim points out that this is still not enough. This is a sentiment she best describes through the following quote by Andrea Fatona in the 144th issue of C Magazine, printed on one of the exhibit’s walls:

“I have to say that erasure continues today. Even though in a way there are these blips in time where the work [we are doing] is visible.[...] I think it requires a deep drilling down in the creation of critical discursive materials that will stand and that will circulate, to allow these works to actually reside within the discussion around Canadian art and Black Canadian art. Without the critical engagement with the work, when the work doesn’t quite find its place in the archives, it seems to come and go.” - Andrea Fatona, C Magazine 144, Winter 2020.

Blackity urges us not only to consider the importance of critical archiving, but also the importance of the systems that enable this archiving to exist, in order to see an abundant, diverse archive in the future.

“What are the traces left behind and who is picking them up? It is one thing for exhibits to happen and another to preserve them.” - Dr. Joanna Joachim

The exhibit will be running at Artexte until June 23rd, 2022. You can visit Blackity in-person and online. Please visit Artexte’s website for more information.

Image Rights: Paul Litherland, 2021.
Khadejha McCall, Suzan Dionne Balz, et al.  “ La constitution d'une nation.” Montreal, QC, 1993. https://www.artexte.art/en/blackity/la-constitution-d-une-nation.

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