Reclaiming Caribbean artwork historical past within the AGO’s ‘Fragments of Epic Reminiscence’


In his 1992 Nobel Lecture, the Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott described the diasporic identities of the Caribbean archipelago as a vividly kinetic “amassing of damaged items.”

“Smash a vase,” he postulated, “and the affection that reassembles the fragments is more potent than that love which took its symmetry with no consideration when it was once entire.”

Walcott’s sentiment serves as the root for the Artwork Gallery of Ontario’s newest primary exhibition, “Fragments of Epic Reminiscence,” which takes its name from that very lecture.

The inaugural exhibition arranged by means of the AGO’s new division of Arts of International Africa and the Diaspora, “Fragments” explores the artwork and legacy of the Caribbean in a free chronology, from post-emancipation via to the fashionable generation. Anchoring the exhibition are 200 pictures from the Sir Bernard Law Number of Caribbean Images, the gallery’s landmark 2019 acquisition, which marks its public debut with the display.

Grouped thematically in desk circumstances all over the gallery, the images are introduced in discussion with fashionable and recent works from artists with ties to the area, together with Ebony G. Patterson, Sir Frank Bowling, Rodell Warner, Sandra Brewster and Zak Ové.

On a contemporary morning, the exhibition’s curator, Julie Crooks, discovered herself learning a big coral cyanotype titled “A Litany for Survival” by means of the artist Andrea Chung, which overpassed a sequence of colonial pictures supposed to replicate an affiliation to the ocean. Crooks had selected the paintings — which makes use of sugar fused to the picture floor to awaken the worldwide marketplace and the usage of enslaved labour — for its resonance, each in shape and theme, with the pictures, which come with a small cyanotype taken in a while after emancipation. As Crooks studied the paintings, a poem by means of the Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite performed on loop.

A twinkling of an eye later, Crooks evoked Brathwaite whilst explaining her intent in striking in combination the exhibition. “After all, being in Toronto, I noticed this as a possibility to attach our assortment with a bigger historical past of artwork making; to replicate ongoing Caribbean artwork histories that they’ve all the time more or less existed,” she defined. “The fashionable and recent works are reimagining the historical past we see depicted within the pictures; reclaiming it. To me, that’s the counterpoint. However there’s nonetheless a discussion.

“Kamau Brathwaite calls it ‘tidaletic’ in that there’s this consistent from side to side; it’s extra difficult than just, ‘Right here’s a colonial {photograph} and right here’s {a photograph} that pushes in opposition to it,’” she persevered. “As an alternative, there’s this consistent entanglement that in reality complicates the historical past of the histories of the Caribbean.”

Along across the world acclaimed artists similar to Patterson, Crooks made positive to incorporate and fee paintings by means of Toronto-based artists similar to Natalie Picket and Brewster, who was once commissioned to create a work particularly for the display.

In “Fragments,” Brewster’s commissioned piece, “Feeding Trafalgar,” calls for a complete wall unto itself: a photo-based gel switch on three-metre-tall picket panels that depicts her mom in Trafalgar Sq. with pigeons flying round her and resting on her outstretched fingers.

Contacted by way of electronic mail, Brewster explains that “Feeding Trafalgar” “now not best refers back to the feeding of the pigeons that inhabit the sq. but additionally to the improvement of the cultural panorama and the way those areas benefited from this inflow of freshmen from, on this case, the Caribbean.”

Talking of the exhibition’s significance, Brewster echoed Crooks’ ideology. “Bringing in combination this assortment with the works of modern artists hooked up to those other areas expresses a continuation of historical past,” she wrote. “That perpetually presence, and the affect that those histories have had on folks as time strikes on.”

For Picket, whose 2012 piece “Mazalee” hangs within the exhibition, “Fragments” provides an all too uncommon likelihood to “honour the stories, trips and tales of the diasporic Caribbean neighborhood” in a gallery surroundings, which so continuously subsumes it.

“I see this display as bringing the neighborhood in combination, instructing every different about our stories and in regards to the significance of the humanities in telling our cultural truths,” she mentioned by means of electronic mail. “This exhibition highlights the richness of our cultural expressions and provides alternatives for reputation for the neighborhood but additionally for (continuously invisibilized) Caribbean Canadian artists dwelling in Ontario, Canada.”

For her phase, Crooks is cautious of assigning such significance to “Fragments.” Slightly, she hopes it is going to function an entree into what she believes will develop into a brand new custom of exhibition.

“Because the name suggests, (the exhibition) isn’t encyclopedic, it’s now not one of those panacea,” she mentioned. “It’s actually pronouncing ‘We will construct in this.’”

“Fragments of Epic Reminiscence” is scheduled to run on the Artwork Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas St. W., till Feb. 21, 2022.

Jonathan Dekel is a contract contributor founded in Toronto. Observe him on Twitter: @jondekel

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