Ways of Caring

found polaroid image of three family members looing at polariois photos

Unknown photographer, [Looking at Polaroids], around 1970s. Colour instant print (Polaroid SX-70), 10.8 x 8.8 cm. Purchase, with funds donated by Martha LA McCain, 2018. © Art Gallery of Ontario 2018/1113

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Ways of Caring

Wednesday December 18, 2019
Baillie Court, Art Gallery of Ontario

In 2018, the AGO acquired the Fade Resistance collection, an extraordinary group of Polaroids documenting African American family life from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Assembled by Toronto artist Zun Lee over many years, these vivid images chronicle milestones such as weddings, birthdays and graduations as well as quieter daily moments, highlighting the role snapshots have played in Black life, both as tools to challenge stereotypical portrayals, and as a means to memorialize family, culture and heritage.

In anticipation of an exhibition of these photographs in 2021, Lee will lead a round-table conversation, examining the question of what it means to hold this collection in this city today, in a museum like the AGO, and the wider place of institutions in caring for collections of personal photographs. Participants include Deanna Bowen, Kimberly Juanita Brown, Michèle Pearson Clark, Stefano Harney and Fred MotenThe first of three events, Ways of Caring is multi-year initiative to activate the collection and to engage a range of publics in Toronto.

“I’m grateful that this collection has found a committed custodian in the AGO, preserving images that offer a testament to Black visual self-representation,” says Lee. “For years, these images have served as conversation starters for people to come together and share their personal stories. I look forward to working with the AGO to engage old and new audiences in offering their own take on what it means to be seen."

Zun Lee is an award-winning Canadian photographer, physician and educator. He was born and raised in Germany and has also lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Lee focuses his explorations on everyday Black life to highlight contemporary social justice issues at the intersection of race, sexuality, gender, and class. Intersubjectivity and trust dynamics are an important component of Zun’s work as he embeds himself in his collaborators’ lives. He is best known for his multi-year ethnographic project Father Figure, his immersive documentation of Black fatherhood that disrupts mainstream representations of Black family life and Black masculinity.

His archival project Fade Resistance examines a gap in the recent history of Black visual representation through a collection of over 3,500 found Polaroids of African American families. Produced from the 1970s to the early 2000s, these photographs illuminate how Black communities codified their own lives to generate meaning and belonging. The fact that the original families no longer own these images brings into focus a sociopolitical dynamic of Black dispossession and dislocation that looms over the archive as a whole.

Lee’s work has been exhibited in Canada, the US and Europe. It is also featured in several public and private collections in North America. He has given talks and lectures at art and academic institutions including New York University, University of Chicago, University of Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Annenberg Space for Photography, International Center of Photography, Ryerson University, Columbia University, Duke University, The New School, and Portland Art Museum. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Globe and Mail, Wall Street Journal, TIME, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian and the BBC.

Selected honors and awards include: Mellon Foundation Grant (2019), Knight Foundation Grant (2018), Ontario Arts Council Grant (2018), Canada Arts Council New Chapter Grant (2017), AGO Artist-in-Residence (2017), Magnum Foundation Fellow (2015), Photo District News Photo Annual Winner (2015),Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook Awards Shortlist (2014), PDN 30 (2014).

Deanna Bowen is a Toronto-based artist whose auto-ethnographic practice examines race, migration, historical writing and authorship. Bowen make use of a repertoire of artistic gestures in order to define the Black body and trace its presence and movement in place and time. In recent years, her work has involved rigorous examination of my family lineage and their connections to the Black Prairie pioneers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Creek Negroes and All-Black towns of Oklahoma, the extended Kentucky/Kansas Exoduster migrations and the Ku Klux Klan.

The artistic products of her research were presented most recently at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Western Front, Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity; Mercer Union, a centre for Contemporary Art; and the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. In 2018 her solo exhibition ON TRIAL The Long Doorway was awarded the Ontario Association of Art Galleries’ Monographic Exhibition of the Year (Budget over $20,000) award. Deanna has also received numerous awards in support of her practice including a 2018 Canada Council Concept/Realization Grant, a 2017 New Chapter Grant; Ontario Arts Council Media Arts Grant, 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and the 2014 William H. Johnson Prize.

Bowen’s 2019 exhibition The God of Gods: A Canadian Play draws from a past work called the 1911 Anti-Creek (Muscogee) Negro petition. The petition was generated by forty-three hundred Alberta citizens who threatened to form anti-black lynch mobs if the Prime Minister did not stop an influx of Afro-Creek people who were fleeing racial violence and mass lynchings in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Bowen’s great grandparents and grandparents’ older siblings were part of that exodus. “God of Gods…” works to excavate and trace the migration of this white nationalist rhetoric to the social networks of the University of Toronto and Hart House’s founding fathers to commemorate the institution's 100th Anniversary this September.

Kimberly Juanita Brown is the Elizabeth C. Small Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies and Chair of Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her research engages the site of the visual as a way to negotiate the parameters of race, gender, and belonging. Her book, The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary (Duke University Press) examines slavery’s profound ocular construction and the presence and absence of seeing in relation to the plantation space. She is currently at work on her second book, tentatively titled “Mortevivum: Photography and the Politics of the Visual.”  This project examines the historical relationship between photography and antiblackness.

Michèle Pearson Clarke is a Trinidad-born artist, writer and educator who works in photography, film, video and installation. Using archival, performative and process oriented strategies, her work explores the personal and political possibilities afforded by considering experiences of emotions related to longing and loss. Recent exhibitionsand screenings include Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (2019) and Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (2018); LagosPhoto Festival (2018), All That is Left Unsaid at ltd los angeles (2018); Black Radical Imagination at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2016); Parade of Champions at Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto (2015); and a solo exhibition, A Welcome Weight on My Body (2018) at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Art, Toronto.

Based in Toronto, Clarke holds an MSW from the University of Toronto, and she received her MFA from Ryerson University in 2015, when she was awarded both the Ryerson University Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal and the Ryerson Gold Medal for the Faculty of Communication + Design. From 2016-2017, Clarke was artist-in-residence at Gallery 44, and she was the EDA Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Toronto Scarborough for the 2018 winter semester. Clarke’s writing has been published in Canadian Art, Transition Magazine and Momus, and in 2018, she was a speaker at the eighth TEDxPortofSpain. Most recently, Clarke has been awarded the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts 2019 Finalist Artist Prize, and she has been appointed to serve a three-year term as the City of Toronto’s Photo Laureate until 2022. Clarke is currently a contract lecturer in the Documentary Media Studies program at Ryerson University.

Stefano Harney is Honorary Professor in the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia.  He is also a Visiting Critic at Yale University Art School, and a Professor at the European Graduate School.  He curated the show 'Shipping and the Shipped' at the Bergen Assembly triennial in 2016 as part of the freethought collective.  With Tonika Sealy Thompson he runs the reading camp and study project Ground Provisions.  He is part of the School for Study, a nomadic collective of university teachers whose exodus from the university marks the space and time to study.

Fred Moten is Professor in the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts. He holds an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Moten teaches courses and conducts research in black studies, performance studies, poetics and critical theory. He is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Hughson’s Tavern (Leon Works, 2009); B. Jenkins (Duke University Press, 2010); The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions, 2014), The Little Edges (Wesleyan University Press, 2015), The Service Porch (Letter Machine Editions, 2016) and a three-volume collection of essays whose general title is consent not to be a single being (Duke University Press, 2017, 2018). Moten is also co-author, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2013) and A Poetics of the Undercommons (Sputnik and Fizzle, 2016) and, with Wu Tsang, of Who touched me? (If I Can’t Dance, I Don't Want to be Part of Your Revolution, 2016). Moten has served on the editorial boards of Callaloo, Discourse, American Quarterly and Social Text; as a member of the Critical Theory Institute at the University of California, Irvine; on the board of directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York; and on the advisory board of Issues in Critical Investigation, Vanderbilt University.

Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Moten served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Irvine and the University of Southern California. In addition, Moten was the inaugural Helen L. Bevington Professor of Modern Poetry at Duke University and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. Moten has been the Whitney J. Oates Fellow in the Humanities Council and the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, the Sherry Memorial Visiting Poet at the University of Chicago and a Visiting Artist at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College. In 2016 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Stephen E. Henderson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry by the African American Literature and Culture Society. In 2014, Moten’s The Feel Trio was a poetry finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was winner of the California Book Award; and in 2016 his The Little Edges was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.


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