AGO explores the complex history of the Caribbean in new major exhibition

Opening Sept. 1, Fragments of Epic Memory features works by Ebony Patterson, Sir Frank Bowling, Rodell Warner and new commissions by Sandra Brewster and Zak Ové 

TORONTO — A birthplace; a destination; a site of violent conquest, brutality and singular beauty – the Caribbean is a region bound by numerous geographical, colonial and personal connections. This fall, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites visitors to immerse themselves in those complex histories, and the art they have inspired, in the major new exhibition Fragments of Epic Memory. Featuring a selection of images from the AGO’s celebrated Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, alongside new and celebrated works by modern and contemporary artists of Caribbean descent, the exhibition opens to AGO Members on Sept. 1, 2021. Annual Passholders and members of the public may visit beginning Sept. 4, 2021. 
 
Inspired by the writing of post-war Caribbean writers and poets such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Braithwaite and others, the exhibition is loosely chronological, charting the post-emancipation period and highlighting the arrival of commercial photography to the region the 1840s, alongside exceptional modern and contemporary art by artists with ties to the region. Designed as an immersive encounter with the region – its artistic imagination, history and landscape – the exhibition features paintings, sculpture, photographs and time-based media by more than 30 artists with ties to the region. Curated by Julie Crooks, it is the first exhibition to be organized by the AGO’s new Department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, headed by Crooks.
 
Making their debut as part of Fragments of Epic Memory is a selection of historical photographs from the AGO’s Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs including studio portraits, landscapes, scenes of bustling markets, labour, industry and tourist views. A small part of the Collection’s 3,500 images, these photographs highlight the work of a range of mainly European and American photographers who were drawn to the region. Shedding light on the monumental changes taking place in the region during the latter part of the 19th century, these photographs are a visual archive of the colonial legacies inherited by modern and contemporary artists and their descendants.
 
“The story of the Caribbean, the diaspora and its artists aren’t one story, but a range of histories, media, voices and lived experiences, best understood through the interplay of them all,” says Julie Crooks, Curator, Arts of Global Africa, and the Diaspora. “Toronto is also home to one of the world’s largest Caribbean communities, and the work of local artists like Sandra Brewster, Natalie Wood and Vancouver’s Charles Campbell is a significant part of the transnational story we’re telling.”

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ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
 Bridging modernism and geography, the exhibition features artworks by Guyanese-born painters Sir Frank Bowling and Aubrey Williams. Bowling’s monumental painting Middle Passage (1970), on loan from the National Gallery of Canada, situates faint map drawings of Africa and the Americas atop an abstract sea of yellow and red paint, reminiscent of the Guyanese flag. Similarly, Williams combines abstraction and the iconography of the Carib (Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean) in his painting Carib Form (1962). These works are accompanied by paintings by Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam and Trinidadian modernist Sybil Atteck.
 
More than 30 artists are represented in the exhibition, which includes photographs by Vanley Burke and Robert Charlotte, paintings by Leasho Johnson and multi-media works by Suchitra Mattai and Andrea Chung. Combining digital animation and found photographs, Trinidadian artist Rodell Warner’s series of single-channel videos bring into three dimensions the subjects captured by the colonial lens as an intervention in the representation of these people and places, one that imagines imaginative alternatives.  Adjacent to these, Ebony Patterson’s multi-channel video installation and recent AGO acquisition three kings weep…. (2018), unfolds its slow and monumental reflection on performances of black masculinities.
 
In Paul Anthony Smith’s Untitled, 7 Women (2019) on loan from the Hott Collection, he employs a unique technique called ‘picotage’, obscuring his subjects with textural geometric patterns that mimic ornate Caribbean architectural elements.
 
Charles Campbell’s sculpture Maroonscape 1: Cockpit Archipelago (2019), a futuristic topographic sculpture of Jamaica’s distinctive cockpit region and its accompanying soundscape Maroonscape 2: Yet Every Child (2020), are a homage to the region where the Maroon’s sought refuge from enslavement. For Campbell, this region and its history are a model for a Caribbean city of the future—a place of resourcefulness, autonomy, community, and hope.
 
The exhibition concludes with a diptych by Haitian-Dominican artist Firelei Báez, entitled Adjusting the Moon (the right to non-imperative clarities): Waxing and Adjusting the Moon (the right to non-imperative clarities): Waning (both 2019). In Walker Court, the AGO’s atrium, a newly commissioned 18-foot-high mixed media sculpture by Trinidadian British-born artist Zak Ové entitled Moko Jumbie will be unveiled ahead of the exhibition’s opening.
 
The AGO re-opened safely on July 21, 2021, under strict health and safety guidelines for all visitors and employees. Fragments of Epic Memory is free for AGO Members, holders of the $35 Annual Pass, and visitors aged 25 and under, and is included in General Admission. Admission to the AGO requires advance booking of a timed-entry ticket. For more details on how to book your tickets, visit ago.ca
 
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, co-published by the AGO and DelMonico Books/D.A.P, scheduled for release later this fall. Stay tuned for additional details about exclusive Member Previews and exhibition-inspired programming.

ABOUT THE MONTGOMERY COLLECTION OF CARIBBEAN PHOTOGRAPHS AT THE AGO
The Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs was in part donated by Patrick Montgomery, and in part purchased by the AGO 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.
 
@AGOToronto | #CaribbeanArtAGO  
 
Fragments of Epic Memory is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Lead Sponsor:                        TD Bank Group, through the TD Ready Commitment
 
Supporting Sponsors:              KPMG

                                             Panasonic
 
Generous Support:                   Phil Lind & Ellen Roland

                                              Volunteers of the AGO
           
                                              Women’s Art Initiative

Generous Assistance:               Cindy & Shon Barnett
    
                                              Dr. Carlyle Farrell
    
                                              Friends of Global Africa & the Diaspora

                                              The Michael Young Family Foundation

Contemporary programming at the AGO generously supported by the Canada Council of the Arts

ABOUT THE AGO
Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit AGO.ca to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.

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For hi-res images and other press inquiries, please contact:
 
Andrea-Jo Wilson; Manager, Public Relations
Andrea-Jo.Wilson@ago.ca
 
Caitlin Coull; Director, Communications
Caitlin.Coull@ago.ca

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