Black History Month-Themed Exhibit at AGM Tonight

Ever since the deeply troubling death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement -- a response to his violent death at the hands of excitable neighbourhood watch coordinator, George Zimmerman -- has picked up tremendous momentum and has not only invaded the American and international political consciousness, but has influenced the art world as well.

Now, the Art Gallery of Mississauga is hosting a Black History Month-themed panel and exhibit that explores both artistic and real-life depictions and ideas of black identity in a changing and challenging world.

According to the AGM, the Intergalatic Noise exhibit -- which is being held in the gallery this Friday, Feb 26 from 7:00-10:00 pm -- is all about "exploring the hypertensions of Black identity in the diaspora."

The event will feature work by artists Danilo McCallum and Quentin Vercetty (who actually hails from Malton), who, according to the AGM, "invite us to re-engage with the concept of Black History Month. Intergalactic Noise is rather an education project in collaboration with the AGM; it provides artists, designers and multi-media creatives the opportunity to explore the concept of Afrofuturism, an aesthetic which combines the elements of science fiction, history, magical realism and Afrocentricity to interrogate and re-examine the historical events of the past."

The exhibit will be set in 3016 and will ask attendees to imagine "utopic black realities beyond [Black History Month]."

Aside from an artistic exhibit -- which will feature work by Lego artist and Nuit Blanche alum Ekow Nimako -- the event also boasts a panel moderated by CBC Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris that will feature Nimako, Vercetty and Mississauga-born media/performance artist Camille Turner.

"The concept is an aesthetic," explains former community activator: education and programs at the AGM and event coordinator Natasha Daniel. "It's the black diaspora aesthetic that [came up in art and intellectual circles] a while ago, probably about 30 years ago. Afrofuturism combines science fiction and current politics and history and black power politics. It's a utopic reality; a place where blackness will go."

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Daniel and the AGM have basically said it all. Afrofuturism, while probably fluid and personal to those who incorporate it into their work and lives, is a literary and artistic expression that combines elements of fiction, fantasy, magic and more to critique the past, present and potential future realities of black identity. It touches on elements of the African diaspora, which refers to communities of people descended from African ancestors.

"[Panelist] Camille Turner is the godmother of Afrofuturism in Toronto and the GTA," Daniel says. "She's from Mississauga and that's a proud thing and it's an honor to have her on the panel."

When chatting with Daniel about the timely and ambitious event -- the first of its kind for the AGM -- we touched upon issues of race representation in Peel in general and Mississauga in particular.

"These things [like Black Lives Matter] that took the world by storm, you can't help but notice them, even if you don't agree with them. Conversations that people have been having in activist and black communities are being brought to the forefront. Because of people like Trayvon Martin, these politics have hit the mainstream. One major issue in Peel is that black youth is not represented properly in the arts community. Where are the young black artists? There's a problem with black visibility in Peel in general. I think we way we represent culture in Peel needs to shift. We're not inclusive just because we're diverse. All people should be talking about Black Lives Matter and anti-blackness. We need to think transnationally."

The AGM couldn't be tackling these issues at a more appropriate time. Conversations about black identity and the black experience have weaved their way into the public discourse and the discussions aren't stopping any time soon. Nor should they. The core concepts of the black rights and black empowerment movement are hotly debated in all social and intellectual circles, and even something seemingly unremarkable -- like a bombastic performance by Beyonce at the Super Bowl -- can spur days of rancorous argument.

This event will allow Mississauga to invite people to debate and discuss these issues safely and respectfully in an artistic space focused on visual and verbal storytelling and expression. It will also give black Canadian artists another opportunity to confront the art world with pieces that reflect their reality.

"Let's talk about these things," Daniel says. "This panel lets us do that. Right now, we're moving through a world where we don't have to pick aesthetic over content. Art should always reflect the reality that we're living."

The AGM is also reaching out to art aficionados beyond our borders, providing free bus transport from Toronto's Gladstone Hotel to tonight's event. As for whether or not the AGM will continue to tackle more challenging exhibits in the future, Daniel is hopeful.

"I think [tonight] should have a good turn out and I hope the AGM will host more events like this," she says. "If it does more cutting edge stuff, that could spark more. I hope this event will put Peel on more artists' radar. A lot of artists who are well-known are actually from Peel, there's a lot of talent here."

The event kicks off at 7:00 pm tonight at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, located at 300 City Centre Drive. Wine and appetizers will be available. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, click here.

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