On now at the Gladstone Hotel Art Hut, Black (Art) City draws inspiration from the activist, art and direct action space, BlackCity, (BLMTO, March 2016). Honouring the legacy of activist aesthetics on the one year anniversary of this gathering, Black (Art) City also serves as as a jumping off point for conversations on future collaborations between artists and activists in black liberation movements.
We spoke with Syrus Marcus Ware, the artist and curator behind the show, who will be in residency over the next two weeks alongside Melisse Watson, Ryavyn Wngz and other guest artists. Read more about Syrus and the upcoming show below.
Where did the inspiration for Black Art City come from?
Artists are such a powerful resource for activist movements – and activist movements can inspire artists in meaningful and important ways. They are halves of perhaps the same whole – both allow for problem solving, questioning and strategizing through different mediums.
2016 was a hard year- there are a lot of problems to ‘solve’. We witnessed intense violence throughout the year, we read news story after news story about police brutality, about widespread civil unrest and heard public calls for support from black activists in the face of what many have described as a continued genocide. In Toronto, a city that has also experienced a year full of black activism and organizing around issues of policing, the role of the Special Investigations Unit (the province’s so-called “police watchdog”) has been seriously called into question, education for our black youth has been put at the forefront of our efforts and black organizers have been very public and unapologetic about calling out anti-blackness in different communities, including the LGBTTI2QQ communities.
Back in March 2016, we made an arts based response to this movement for black lives- creating a public gallery on the street in from of the cop shop in Toronto. Black Lives Matter- Toronto held a 15 day occupation that saw the creation of 20 foot textile installations, countless works on paper, paintings, performance art showcases and dances. We called for an end to anti-blackness, to an end to targeted policing- we called for change through our songs, our drawings, our bodies moving in rhythm. Artists created solidarity websites, artists used their magic to put on public display this failing system.
Black Art City is a meditation on these activisms, movement building through artistic engagements. It draws on particular movements in Toronto, and reflects on this past year in the city.
Is the audience encouraged to engage/participate in this space?
Yes! Much like the amazing community drop in space that was created through the tent city occupation- this space will be open to all for drop in visits, community connection and time with the artists. Activism and art can be excellent connectors, ways for people to find community, and to get supports and engagements. Black Art City is an exhibition, event space, drop in meeting zone, artist studio and more- all rolled up into one!
What can an onlooker expect to see at any given time throughout the exhibition?
Artists Melisse Watson, Kike Otulje and Ravyn Wngz will be working along side Syrus Marcus Ware throughout the run of Black Art City- creating new print making, dance and drawing works in the space. Stop by and watch the artists work, participate in some drop in arts workshops, share food together and talk about activism and organizing in each others lives.
Your artistic practice is intensely intertwined with activism and social commentary, what role do you think creativity plays in advancing equality?
Creativity is essential!
Artists can help us to problem solve in dynamic ways- helping to answer key questions and helping to set new agendas going forward. Artists can literally help us paint pictures of the kinds of worlds we want to live in, as well as offering us mirrored reflections of our current realities. Activists can also offer great inspiration to artists- offering ways of considering social change and suggesting dynamic subject matter for artists to explore. These two ways of working go really well together.
Check out Black (Art) City on at the Gladstone Art Hut-1181 Queen Street W
March 6 – 19, 2017
Thurs, March 9, 7-10pm
A night of performance art and performance by black and Indigenous artists
Sat, March 18 7-10pm
An immersive environment with art, music by DJ Dabz and Aruna Boodram, and pop up performances throughout the evening.