Free Black North Explored

Unidentified man with a cigar

Unknown. [Unidentified man with a cigar], 1870-1880. Tintype, 8.9 × 6.4 cm. Richard Bell Family Fonds, Brock University Archives. Courtesy Brock University Archives, Image © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario

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Free Black North Explored

Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Baillie Court, Art Gallery of Ontario

Join us for a conversation lead by Julie Crooks, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s newly appointed assistant curator of photography, on her exhibition Free Black North with panelists Deanna Bowen, Seika Boye and Afua Cooper. The exhibition features close to 30 rarely seen photographs of men, women and children living in Ontario in the mid-to-late 1800s, many of whom were descendants of Black refugees who escaped enslavement in the southern United States. The program includes a panel of artists, writers and scholars who will discuss how historically Black Canadian communities used photography as a tool to visualize and lay claim to their complex histories, and how these issues shape the lives of Black Canadians today.

About the Panelists:

Deanna Bowen (b. 1969, Oakland; lives in Toronto) is a descendant of the Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneers of Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. Bowen’s family history has been the central pivot of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary works since the early 1990s. Her broader artistic/educational practice examines history, historical writing and the ways in which artistic and technological advancements impact individual and collective authorship. She has received several awards in support of her artistic practice including a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2014 William H. Johnson Prize. Her work has been exhibited internationally in numerous film festivals and museums, including the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the Images Festival, Flux Projects, the Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax.

Dr. Seika Boye is a scholar, advocate and dance artist. She is a lecturer at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and director of the newly established research hub, the Centre for Dance Studies at the University of the Toronto. Her SSHRC funded research focuses on social dancing within Toronto’s black population at mid-century through the study of historiographic documents such as photographs, newspapers, and archives.

Afua Cooper is the Dalhouse University James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies. Her research interests are African Canadian studies, with specific regard to the period of enslavement and emancipation in 18th and 19th century Canada and the Black Atlantic; African-Nova Scotian history; political consciousness; community building and culture; slavery’s aftermath; Black youth studies. Dr. Cooper founded the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA), which she currently chairs.


The AGO and the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival present a landmark series of talks featuring leading international artists and thinkers reflecting on the history and future of photography and its impact on our culture.

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