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An Epic exploration

Fragments of Epic Memory, a major exhibition exploring the art and legacy of the Caribbean, opens September 1 at the AGO.

photo of paul anthony smith, seven women

Paul Anthony Smith, Untitled, 7 Women, 2019. Unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil, spray paint on museum board, 101.6 x 127 cm. The Hott Collection, New York © Paul Anthony Smith. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Few regions across the globe better capture the potent complexity of the African Diaspora than the Caribbean. Its unique patchwork – of histories, landscapes and cultural influences – symbolizes both the radical imagination of its people and the footprint of colonization. This fall, the AGO will explore the past, present and future of the Caribbean by immersing visitors in the powerful art it has inspired. Opening September 1, the new major exhibition Fragments of Epic Memory features hundreds  of images from the AGO’s Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, alongside a  range of other modern and contemporary works by artists of Caribbean descent.

The inaugural exhibition from the AGO’s new department, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, Fragments of Epic Memory has been curated by the department’s head, Julie Crooks. Its title is derived from Derek Walcott’s 1992 Nobel Lecture, The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, and serves as an astute description of the journey visitors will take through the exhibition. It begins with the advent of commercial photography in the region (1840s–1950s), then introduces visitors to a range of exceptional modern and contemporary works related to the Caribbean, organized thematically. 

Montgomery Martinique

Unknown, Martinique Woman, c.1890. Albumen print, 15 x 11cm. Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs. Purchase, with funds from Dr. Liza & Dr. Frederick Murrell, Bruce Croxon & Debra Thier, Wes Hall & Kingsdale Advisors, Cindy & Shon Barnett, Donette Chin-Loy Chang, Kamala-Jean Gopie, Phil Lind & Ellen Roland, Martin Doc McKinney, Francilla Charles, Ray & Georgina Williams, Thaine & Bianca Carter, Charmaine Crooks, Nathaniel Crooks, Andrew Garrett & Dr. Belinda Longe, Neil L. Le Grand, Michael Lewis, Dr. Kenneth Montague & Sarah Aranha, Lenny & Julia Mortimore, and The Ferrotype Collective, 2019.

“The story of the Caribbean and its artists isn’t one story, but a kaleidoscope of histories and voices and experiences, best understood through the interplay of them all,” says Crooks. “Toronto is home to one of the world’s largest Caribbean communities, and the presence of local artists like Sandra Brewster, Natalie Wood and Vancouver’s Charles Campbell is a significant part of the story we’re telling. The artworks  on display here are both  part of the Caribbean and our own community in the diaspora  – as it was through their efforts the Montgomery Collection was acquired by the AGO."

Acquired in 2019, The Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs consists of more than 3,000 prints, postcards, daguerreotypes, lantern slides, albums and stereographs taken in the region between 1840 and 1950. Approximately 200 objects from the Montgomery Collection will be making their debut as part of Fragments of Epic Memory, providing the exhibition with a foundation of historic photography from the region. These images speak to the major social, cultural and political shifts occurring in the Caribbean during that period.  

Ebony G Patterson. ...three kings weep

Ebony G. Patterson. ...three kings weep..., 2018. three-channel digital colour video projection with sound, Running Time: 8 Minutes, 34 Seconds. Purchase, with funds from the Photography Curatorial Committee, 2020. © Ebony G. Patterson, courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. 2019/2469

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will encounter paintings, sculpture, photographs and time-based media by 30 artists with ties to the region: Guyanese-born  modernist artists Sir Frank Bowling and Aubrey Williams,  as well as  contemporary artists of  Jamaican descent: Paul Anthony SmithEbony Patterson and Charles Campbell to name but three. Additionally, situated in  Walker Court will be British-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové’s 18-foot commissioned sculpture Moko Jumbie, a futuristic representation of the popular Carnival character. 

Stay tuned for more info and updates about Fragments of Epic Memory, opening to the public on September 1 at the AGO.

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