bell hooks say “taking our cues from mainstream white culture, black folks have tended to see art as completely unimportant in the struggle for survival” (hooks, 2000). From the looks of the number of people at the Caribana Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on July 22, 2010, this is changing.
Amongst the circle of couches my friend and I sat in, there were two older white men, a South Asian family, a black man with a white woman and a white lady who looked Italian sitting beside me. I looked up at one point and could see an Asian family standing, looking at the podium before the event actually started. The audience was as diverse as the Caribbean, with black people in the majority.
“When I think of the place of the visual in black life, I think most black folks are more influenced by television and movie images than by painting, sculpture and so on” (hooks, 2000). No one told us what to expect from the night’s event, however, we did have a pamphlet, almost like a TV guide in both of our hands featuring miniature versions of the pieces that were accepted for the exhibit. Toni Daley did a piece called “Blame it on Boogie” with a large afro and a black woman unclothed, framed to her bust and painted in shadows. It was a striking piece which illustrates the notion of dancing from dusk until dawn with both the moon and sunrise captured in the background. I found this piece particularly interesting because I am doing my dissertation on black hair politics in online education, which is a continuation of the research I began during my master’s degree at Concordia University in Montréal.
What does an artist look like? I was wearing a red shirt, a long flowing black jacket and flowing black pants with a yellow scarf. Many people were telling me I looked like an artist. I think the fact I had my hair out in an afro contributed to comments from many people that I looked like one of the artists. I ran into my dentist Dr. Kenneth Montague at the event, as well as a long-time friend Julie Crooks who I worked with briefly at the CBC, as well as on a documentary project for the NFB on Caribbean nurses. We all exchanged business cards, making the event also good for networking.
hooks quoting Painter Charles White: “without culture, without creative art, inspiring to these senses, mankind stumbles into a chasm of despair and pessimism” (hooks, 2000). The curator Joan Butterfield introduced all of the 37 artists selected to showcase at the Caribana Exhibit for this year. People joyfully applauded. Once the introductions were over, there were some speeches by some of the sponsors and then it was time for them to open the exhibit.
Once upstairs, there were ushers pointing in the direction of the showroom and there it was, hundreds of pieces of art showcased in a room of approximately 4,000 square feet. The first piece of art to the right was fantastic, done in mixed media and I really enjoy that form of art. It was really neat at first, feeling like being in a visual candy shop. My friend and I moved slowly through, wanting to take all of it in. The walls were packed with art, there was not enough space for all of the pieces and the usual rule of spacing out art to leave room for the experience was surpassed by the need to showcase all of the talents in the limited space of the ROM.
Now when I think about the politics of seeing – how we perceive the visual, how we write and talk about it – I understand that the perspective of which we understand art is determined by location (hooks, 2000).
About three-quarters of the way around the room, I started to feel really claustrophobic and over stimulated – with all of the people and the colour on the walls. I started to make a beeline for the exit with my friend in tow, agreeing with me that they crammed in too much art into too small a place.
Once we were outside of the building, it was kind of a relief. I think the best experiences of viewing art are when there is more physical space involved unless the art is taking place in a rural setting with the outdoors as a backdrop. Inside the ROM, there were just too many people there and too much art in one place. The combination turned out to be overwhelming; however, I was still very much inspired and impressed with the display.
Butterfield, Joan. (2010). “From the Soul” COLOURblind 2010 Royal Ontario Museum. [Art Exhibit].
hooks, bell. (2000). Art is for everybody. In D. Chasman and E. Chian (eds.), Drawing us in, (pp. 96-104). Boston: Beacon.