Quentin VerCetty: The Artist from Malton
For 25-year-old Quentin VerCetty, art is more than just decoration. The self-proclaimed Afrofuturistic new media "artivist" and designer believes art serves a bigger purpose in society.
"Some artists are more about entertainment. I don't believe in that as an African person that knows how art can heal. Art isn't a decoration but a tool," said VerCetty.
The owner of fine arts production operation VerCetty Made It Studios and CEO and creative director of PRIYOME Multi-Media Group, Vercetty is an award winning artist who has traveled and showcased his art in places such as London and Dubai. He was recently a panelist at the Intergalactic Noise Black History Month exhibit at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, where he discussed pertinent issues of black representation in the Mississauga and Peel arts scene and the concept of Afrofuturism, 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.
Beyond being a proud advocate of the healing effects of art, he's honest about the struggles he experienced growing up in a troubled community in Mississauga -- the city where he spent most of his youth.
Before art, he was a troubled black youth without much of a future.
"I come from a neighbourhood where we were all making the wrong decisions. A lot people going to prison and ending up getting severely hurt or dying," said VerCetty.
Although he was born in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, he spent most of his youth in Malton -- a Mississauga neighbourhood that's gone through some upheaval over the years.
Growing up, there weren't many positive things to do in his community.
“There was a heavy police presence so it felt like we were going to be another statistic. We didn't actually feel like we had freedom," he said.
At age 16, he was sent from Malton to a school in New York because his mother was fed up with his behaviour.
“While I was in New York, I had traumatic experiences. Realizing what I was going through and all the stress, art became an out for me. When I tried to come back a year and a half later, I used art as a way to engage myself back in education and that started opening up doors," said VerCetty.
During his toughest days, art became an outlet for his thoughts and emotions. It gave him a purpose and the chance to get off the streets when he returned home. After experiencing hardships, living in Mississauga with his grandmother helped give him a new perspective on life -- especially since he was able to experience Mississauga from beyond Malton's borders. When living in Malton, VerCetty said he saw little opportunity beyond retail and fast food jobs.
“For me, I felt there was a strong contrast between [the rest of] Mississauga and Malton.
Being in Malton you always felt isolated. Square One is far away, so we felt disconnected from the heart of Mississauga," said Vercetty.
"Not leaving Malton caused me to have a small perspective. Mississauga opened my eyes to multiculturalism and showed me there are so many ways young black men can live. Mississauga made me realize so many more opportunities in the world," said Vercetty. "Malton was a different kind of neighbourhood with a lot of crime. In my building alone I can remember four people being murdered. My next door neighbour even got shot," he said.
Travelling gave VerCetty a new outlook on life and his passion for art allowed him to change his path.
Today, he uses art to send messages and connect with people.
"I'm really big on art carrying meaning. At heart, I'm a storyteller. People connect to storytelling," he said.
He uses symbolism in his art to challenge viewer's minds, and that is why he calls himself an artivist. VerCetty believes that art can change other people's lives the way it changed his.
“He even conducts research before a project to make sure his messages are clear and informed.”
“Most of my work is done off research. Either my life or something I was exposed to and wanted to learn more about," said Vercetty. "It's not about making money; it's about making connections through this opportunity. I'm not rich, but I've been able to go to so many different countries because of my art and I didn't have to pay for anything. Travelling and connecting people through art have motivated me to keep doing what I'm doing," he said.
Here’s some of his work:
Reine Albrighten bearing arms
Metaphors Opportunity Mural
Oath of Sankera
Whole Self Portrait
To learn more about VerCetty, check out his website.