BLACK CREEK UNITED at York Woods Library (1785 Finch West), to February 29. 416-395-5980.
A GLIMPSE OF BLACK LIFE IN VICTORIAN TORONTO at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge), to March 2. 416-395-5577. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Despite some progress, the official visual arts world in Canada remains an enclave of intertwining privilege based on gender, class and, of course, race. This makes attempts to reclaim the validity of art and art-making for all of crucial importance.
So while I applaud the intent of these two black-focused exhibitions, I have to say that the presentation style of both is modest to the point of disappointment and possibly insult, for viewer and subject alike. In many ways they’re an unintentionally sad reminder of the tokenistic and underfunded institutional treatment of black culture.
Black Creek United exhibits some documentation and products of a two-month Jane-Finch community arts program funded and organized by the Art Gallery of York U.
Photos by area kids of their nabe are the highlight, and it’s encouraging that a “serious” institution is doing this kind of outreach.
The lowlight is that the images are printed letter-size, with little explanation or artist recognition. Community arts is often more process than product, and that’s totally valid; still, whatever good came out of this program isn’t well reflected here.
A Glimpse Of Black Life In Victorian Toronto 1850-1860 is a conference-stand-style exhibit describing major figures and activities. There’s a lot of useful text but not enough visuals; it’s basically a pamphlet writ large. Other cities are doing better. Ottawa’s National Gallery recently hosted a massive travelling exhibition of contemporary African photography. And Washington, DC’s National Portrait Gallery breaks new museological ground with a project on hiphop, bringing images of Public Enemy into the same class as portraits of Abraham Lincoln. (Check the online version at www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/recognize.)
Toronto deserves the same. Small exhibits show goodwill, but our institutions must devote resources to reaching that next level.