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Radical visions

Important thought leaders and artists from across the African diaspora come together for an AGO Art in the Spotlight to discuss the Black radical imagination.

black and white archival photo of two girls standing closely together against a background of a corn field. Printed over their white dresses is historic newspaper text. The image is bordered by white with the name of the photography studio printed in cursive.

Bushra Junaid, Two Pretty Girls... 2016. Archival photograph and archival text printed on backlit fabric panel, 176.8 cm x 89.5 cm. ©Bushra Junaid.

Renowned African-American historian and academic Robin D.G. Kelly describes his groundbreaking 2003 book Freedom Dreams as a “collective history of the Black radical imagination.” In it, he explores subjects as varied as radical feminism, reparations and surrealism as he unpacks the powerful visions of 20th century Black activists and artists. 

On Thursday, July 8 at noon, the AGO welcomes Robin D.G. Kelly, along with artists John Akomfrah and Bushra Junaid for an Art in the Spotlight conversation about what it means to visualize freedom dreams. Moderated by Julie Crooks, AGO Curator, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, the discussion will place the work of each panelist in dialogue with historical images from the AGO’s Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs.  

John Akomfrah is a British artist, filmmaker and writer of Ghanaian descent. His multi-channel video works juxtapose original and archival footage, aiming to “ambitiously connect the global legacies of slavery and colonialism to environmental degradation and his personal biography.” (art21, 2020). His stunning 2015 three-channel video installation, Vertigo Sea, is a meditation on the whaling industry, the slave trade and current migration crisis.  

Nigerian-Canadian artist, curator and arts administrator Bushra Junaid was born in Montreal and raised in Newfoundland, giving her a unique understanding of the Black Canadian experience. Her 2016 photo-based work, Two Pretty Girls.... (image above), features the artist and her sister performing a re-enactment of a 19thcentury photograph of two unnamed plantation workers. It explores the historical connection between Newfoundland and the legacy of plantations during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Junaid’s use of radical imagination in Two Pretty Girls…. is evident in her description of the work: "I see [the women in the image Two Pretty Girls....] as my ancestors. By enlarging the image I give it the immediacy of a family portrait: catapulting these women out of distant history into the present."    

Don’t miss Art in the Spotlight: Visualizing Freedom Dreams happening July 8 at noon via Zoom. This is a free event —  you can register here.  

Stay tuned for more updates from the AGO’s newest department, Global Africa and the Diaspora. And see selected works from the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs in the upcoming AGO exhibition, Fragments of Epic Memory, curated by Julie Crooks.

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