PHOTO: Untitled, 7 Women (2019), a unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil and spray paint on museum board by Paul Anthony Smith (101.6 x 127 cm). Part of the Hott Collection, New York. courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
In Derek Walcott’s 1992 Nobel Lecture The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, he illustrates the essence of Caribbean culture as created by its cities; boundaryless, vibrant at its core, and rhythmic in its movement. The Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) new exhibit Fragments of Epic Memory, titled in honour of Walcott’s speech, encompasses the very beauty he imagined for his people.
The Caribbean holds unique traditions that stem from a mix of African, colonial and native influences. The richness of the islands can be found in this diversity. Inspired alongside other distinguished Caribbean poets, including Kamau Brathwaite, the exhibition fuses a collection of historical and contemporary pieces tracing the period after freedom from slavery and narrates the story of the region through captivating visuals.
Fragments of Epic Memory marks the first exhibition to be organized by the AGO’s new Department; Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, curated by department head Julie Crooks. Established last year, the department is an expansion of the gallery’s efforts to spotlight diverse visual narratives and focuses on the historic and present influences of African and Black creatives.
With Toronto home to one of the largest Caribbean communities in the country, Crooks says the work of local artists is important to express the transitional story being told. Artists such as Sandra Brewster, a Canadian visual artist based in Toronto exploring identity, representation and memory that highlight the Black experience, bring to life our experiences as told by our voices.
Over 30 artists with ties to the Caribbean will be featured in the new exhibit, with works that depict the variety of histories, culture and landscape. Images captured by Vanley Burke, whose body of work is regarded as the “greatest photographic record of African Caribbean people in post-war Britain", alongside paintings and mixed-media work by multidisciplinary artists Leasho Johnson and Suchitra Mattai will be on display amongst others. In Walker Court, an open space at the centre of the gallery, an 18-foot-high mixed media sculpture entitled Moko Jumbie by Trinidadian British-born artist Zak Ové, will be revealed ahead of the exhibition’s opening.
(Moko Jumbie debuted in September 2015 at the British Museum, commissioned to coincide with London’s Notting Hill Carnival.)
Photographs, sculptures, paintings, and time-based media will shape the exhibit to allow visitors to experience Caribbean culture as shared by those connected with the land.
Alongside modern artworks will be a debut of over 200 select historical pieces from the AGO’s Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs. Acquired in 2019, the collection is a visual record of over 3,500 photographs documenting the people, lands and culture across 34 island nations in the region; including Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago. Studio portraits, landscapes, and tourist views comprise the collection in nearly every photographic format that was available during the period between 1840 to 1940.
The selected visuals for Fragments of Epic Memory will primarily arise from European and American photographers that took an interest in the region and captured the transition of a post-war Caribbean in the late 19th century. Highlighting the impact of colonialism, the images portray how this legacy has found its way in the works of modern artists.
Fragments of Epic Memory will be offered free for AGO Members, holders of the $35 Annual Pass, and visitors aged 25 and under that are also included in General Admission. Entry into the AGO requires advance booking where details can be found by visiting ago.ca.
The exhibition opens to AGO Members on Sept. 1, 2021, while Annual Passholders and members of the public can visit beginning Sept. 4, 2021. Fragments of Epic Memory will run until February 21, 2022.