Scratch & Mix Project: Empowering Black Youth Through the Arts
Across the GTA (Halton, Peel, York, Durham and Toronto), black youths are leading grassroots initiatives that use the arts to tackle serious issues that affect them. Spoken word, dance, animation, painting, graffiti, photography and video art are but some of the mediums young people are leveraging to effect change. Unfortunately, their drive to make a difference is often overlooked by the wider public, as are the specific challenges they confront.
The Scratch & Mix Project seeks to help amplify their work by using the power of the arts to make the invisible experiences and achievements of black youths visible. With the help of more than 50 grassroots arts and community organizations, the project has inspired young people from across the GTA to create artwork that tells their stories, raises awareness about challenges they face and offer tangible solutions.
The groundbreaking initiative features an interdisciplinary exhibition, a youth solidarity forum and a community-driven youth-action project. Through these activities, it is offering a new platform for youths to connect directly with the arts community, business, government, academia, law enforcement, social-service agencies and the broader public. Together, they leverage the power of the arts to ignite lasting change in the GTA and beyond.
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Between April 18 and August 30, 2015, the Art Gallery of Ontario will host the Scratch & Mix Exhibition. It will feature the work of 11 young artists who participated in the project’s GTA-wide youth arts competition and were selected by a jury. Their work offers each artist’s unique take on the theme “Empowering the Black Community.” Each piece is also inspired by the AGO’s Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time exhibition and reflects an intergenerational collaboration between the artists and a seasoned artist mentor. Learn more about the artists here.
The Youth Solidarity Forum
The Scratch & Mix Exhibition will serve to ground a dynamic Youth Solidarity Forum, where youths, community leaders and representatives of key sectors will convene. Over the span of three hours, they will develop strategies that can empower black youths to use the arts to address issues identified through a community-wide consultation conducted by the Environics Institute’s Black Experience Project. Issues to be discussed include community safety, physical and mental health, education and employment. The forum program will be available soon.
Register to attend the Forum
The Youth Community Action Project
The Youth Community Action Project will serve as a vehicle to implement the recommendations that will emerge from the Youth Solidarity Forum. They will be used to formulate a three-year community-driven action plan. The Michaëlle Jean Foundation and the NIA Centre for the Arts will work together on supporting grassroots organizations that want to implement the action plan in their neighbourhoods.
The Scratch & Mix Project is the latest edition of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s national program 4th Wall: Make the Invisible Visible, which opens the doors of Canada’s leading cultural institutions to showcase the artwork, experiences and transformative ideas of underrepresented youth.
The project is also an integral part of the BEP, being led by the Environics Institute, which is conducting an unprecedented GTA-wide study to better understand the lived experiences of individuals within black communities and the factors leading to their successes and challenges.
The Scratch & Mix Project draws its inspiration from the AGO’s Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, which showcases the artist’s work and his desire to address issues of social justice—including racism, materialism and exploitation.
Oluseye is a Toronto-based visual artist from Lagos, Nigeria. Entirely self-taught, Oluseye's work combines an interest in Yoruba culture and geometry as a reference to explore universal themes of sexuality, spirituality and identity. His everyday experience as the “other” — racially, sexually and culturally — informs his work and provides a segue for the exploration of related topics including discrimination, social injustice and marginalization.
Working in a monochromatic palette, Oluseye captures a raw and primeval sensibility that evokes mood and an unsettling otherworldly consciousness. His subjects are rendered a physical-spiritual identity by distorting and combining human, sculptural and architectural elements. Outside of painting, Oluseye is an avid designer and entrepreneur. He has grown his own clothing brand, BLKKANGAROO, from pop-ups in Toronto into an enterprise that has established itself as a borderless purveyor of contemporary cool with a presence in Brooklyn, Lagos and London. To explore Oluseye’s work, visit www.olu-seye.com.
Born in the early '90s, Jamaican contemporary artist Kareen Weir has attained a bachelor of fine arts degree at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts with Sculpture as her major. She was part of two group exhibitions in 2014 where her works centred on Jamaican classism and black identity. She is a member of the Paint Jamaica art family and has been an apprentice to Jamaican sculptor Raymond Watson. Weir, who now resides in Brampton, Ontario, has current interests in new media installations, but her preferred mediums are cardboard and wood.
At 21 years of age, Gervais Nash currently studies Urban Planning at Ryerson University and has been a photographic artist for the past six years. Nash displays citizens of the world interacting with their environments in a new light, to inspire and inform those who participate in his vision of their own personal power. Having both curated and participated in multiple group shows over the past two years, Nash uses photographs as a form of personal expression and as a means to explore new or rediscovered topics. This is reflected in both his solo shows, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (2013) and Portraits of a City (2012). In these series, he explores and celebrates the contemporary youth-art graffiti movement and street photography, using traditional analogue techniques. Aspiring to further uncover beauty wherever it may be hidden, his current photographic focus is the physical and mental power that can be cultivated through athletic training.
Giselle Tyrrell is an artist and aspiring architect from Brampton, Ontario. She began doing art on her own at an early age before obtaining a more comprehensive education in visual arts as a student in the Regional Arts Program at Mayfield Secondary School. Tyrrell plans to continue studying art and design at the post-secondary level. Throughout her participation in the program at Mayfield, she developed an eye for design and discovered her love of abstract expressionist and cubist art. The young artist enjoys working in acrylic and has recently been experimenting with sculpture and tactile additions to her paintings. Outside of her academic platform, Tyrrell seeks involvement in community projects. Her artworks generally address the idea of cultural identity in today’s society. In 2013, Tyrrell had artwork published in the Brampton Library’s Inspirations Journal of Youth Writing and Artwork. She has interests in travel and has a desire to explore the nations of the world. Although Tyrrell is still defining her artistic identity, the young artist wants to be able to inspire others by sharing her thoughts and experiences as a member of the black community in Canada.
Ian Keteku is a poet and multi-media artist. A self-described word sorcerer, he conjures new realities, all in an attempt to better understand our existence. Keteku, the Ninja Turtle fanatic, is also an internationally acclaimed spoken word poet. He is a two-time national slam champion and the 2010 World Poetry Slam champion. He uses his art to inspire messages of peace, action and critical thought. He believes that poetry is the universe's way of showing us the beauty in emotion, the similarity in experience and the art of living. Keteku explores themes of revolution, race, lust and loss. He is the creator of a genre-bending amalgamation of down-tempo instrumentals with poetic lyrics, a sound he coined as “Poetronica” (poetry + electronica). Calgary-born Keteku was raised by Ghanaian parents; this upbringing heavily influences his art. His work follows in the lineage of ancient African storytellers by paying homage to the past and revisiting themes and lessons from previous generations. In addition, Keteku is a devout practitioner of Afrofuturism: a philosophy of projecting the black experience into a celestial, technological future. As a video artist, he has directed and produced many thought-provoking poetic films, which have been screened internationally. He conducts poetry, writing and performance workshops for students of all ages and various community groups, inspiring people to accept the power of their own voice. Keteku’s knowledge of '90s cartoons is unnecessary and extensive. One day he hopes to own a pet hippopotamus. Discover his work at www.ianketeku.com.
Komi Olaf is an emerging visual artist and spoken word poet, born in Kaduna, Nigeria. His love and obsession with art and self-expression from an early age led him on a dynamic journey of self-discovery through architecture, art and poetry. After receiving his masters of architecture degree in 2009, he began to develop his artistic practice as a self-taught artist working in the emergent tradition of Afro-futurism, a contemporary genre of art that addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a techno-culture and science fiction lens.
His surrealistic art and poetry bring together distinctive images with perfect unity in a playfully profound vision of a futuristic Diaspora. Olaf pushes his art in wondrous directions, immersing his realistically portrayed characters in mysterious dream worlds of splendor and soul. Serving as a witness to the persistence of beauty within a turbulent world, his work draws inspiration from his immediate environment, music and positivity. Olaf does not like the taste of cheese and believes in the existence of aliens and extraterrestrial life. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada, and is represented by Agora Gallery in New York City. You can discover Komi’s work at www.komiolaf.com.
Halima Jama is a Toronto based Muslim, Somali documentary portrait photographer. To her, a camera is a tool used to capture imagery. Though her delicate but kind hands, cameras become akin to paintbrushes that stroke the world with tear-inducing, smile blossoming, glee-ridden faces of stories that are close to her immensely loving heart. Her love for her art bleeds through her work in proud copious waves of storytelling.
As a woman of colour, Jama’s aim is to highlight, through her craft, what society considers "ordinary, everyday people" in hopes that the very society that neglects her subjects can see how magnificently extraordinary and beautiful all walks of life are. That beauty does not end with certain demographics, that beauty is infinitive and exists in all demographics. Lastly, her aspiration is to create archives and archive-worthy images that give future generations of people of colour something to hold onto, helping them to believe that they too are beautiful.
Quentin Vercetty is a contemporary griot – a storyteller – who knows no boundaries when it comes to his artistic expression. His practice focuses on teaching the effectiveness/impact of artivism and the empowerment in controlling the narrative of your own story. Having the experience of living a negative street life in his adolescence, Vercetty now uses his lived experiences as a source for creating art. He uses film, poetry, short story parables, drumming, painting and 3D digital art rendering as mediums to inspire and provoke social change.
In 2010, Vercetty was awarded the Governor General’s Bronze Medal Award of Excellence for his art and academic achievements. Since then he has travelled to London, Dubai, Port-au-Prince, Cape Town, Kingston, Havana and around the United States, to spread his message about the ways in which art can create social change. He ultimately believes that Toronto youth can have a tremendous positive impact around the world, once they harvest their own creative spirit.
Vercetty is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in fine arts, studying drawing and painting as his major, while minoring in creative writing at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Outside of art, Vercetty is a lover of chocolate and enjoys riding horses, watching Kung Fu films and playing chess whenever he can. To view his work, visit www.vercetty.com.
Ebti Nabag is a young Toronto-based photographer. Since 2010, she has studied and practiced digital photography as well as analog photography. She had the opportunity to showcase her work at Gallery 44, F/9 exhibit, Exposed, Contact Festival and more. Currently, she is putting together her first solo exhibit alongside a photo book for 2016. Through her work, Nabag hopes to engage a diverse audience eliciting rare but significant dialogue. To learn more, please visit www.ebtinabag.com.
Jah Grey is a self-taught photographic artist primarily focused on portraiture. He began taking photos with a "point and shoot" at a young age and has kindled a love of the visuals of classical photography into a full-time career. Inspired by exploring his own vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of those around him, Grey skillfully uses the power of his photographic images to share the deep and meaningful stories behind his subjects. Fascinated by light and how it can impact a photograph, Grey actively remains unafraid to expand himself as an artist. He is on a dedicated journey to live his truth and depict it through photography.
His artistic inspirations include Carrie Mae Weems, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gordon Parks, and Quazimotto from Brooklyn, New York, and he actively draws on the aesthetics disseminated within online communities such as Tumblr. Re.de.fin.ing masculinity, Grey’s first series, focused on women redefining options of masculinity. Grey perceptively showcases how masculinity cannot be confined and that it is one’s individual expression, self defined. “Masculinity is fluid; it is not only crafted by men but by women too. A person never has to 'look the part' in order to be accepted for their identity.” Grey’s work acts to educate and encourage society to unlearn the teachings that act to separate us in order to advocate for a more fluid and diverse world. Systems of oppressions have been created to ensure that black folks continue to be the most unwanted, undesired and unprotected of the races. By focusing on challenging these concepts, his photos bravely remind all of us of the similarities we share, despite our differences.
Grey’s digital portraits encourage us all to live out loud and not feel silenced or shamed around our bodies but feel able to express ourselves in any way we choose. His photographs have been featured in several exhibits across Ontario. He has also had the pleasure of collaborating with community organizations in Toronto such as Manifesto, Long Winter and My City My Story. Grey’s photographs consistently remain rooted in the struggle for social justice and his innovative style of photography redefines the social norms of gender, race, and sexuality — poignantly pushing against the constructs that others place on our bodies and personal identities. To learn more, visit www.jahgrey.com.
Anique J. Jordan
Anique J. Jordan’s work employs photography, performance, poetry and installation to draw attention to the body as a sight of political resistance and futuristic imagining. She actively seeks new ways of knowledge production that warp and disrupt colonial histories. Her current work looks at themes of arrivals and survival of black women and the use of cultural production in these gravely intimate, yet global journeys. Her art creation processes are guided by the questions: What stories do we tell that go unchallenged? And in how many ways can we know a thing?
Jordan is now completing her master's of poetry, performance and community economic development at York University and is an artist-in-residence at the Watah Theatre Institute. As a master's candidate, Jordan spends time researching how arts-based methodologies can expose approaches of community and self-survival to create community-led and self-sustaining models of local development. In 2014, Jordan held a fellowship in the first cohort of Studio Y at Mars Discovery District, was awarded as one of 15 Ashoka-AMEX Emerging Innovators and was invited to participate in The Drawing Room, an international poets residency held in Jamaica.
Jordan has been lovingly mentored by globally celebrated dub-poet d’bi.young anitafrika, Jamaican theatre worker and scholar Honor Ford-Smith, poets Christine Craig and Millicent Graham and photographers Isa Ransome and Ella Cooper. Jordan’s photography has been exhibited at the Watah Mawak Gallery, and her poetry has been published in OCHUN (2014), an anthology produced by the Sorplusi Institute Press. To learn more, visit www.aniquejjordan.com.