Winsom at Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum's Paper Mill Gallery (67 Pottery Road), to March 30. 416-396-2819. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
With four shows running con-currently, Winsom is the defining artist of Black History Month in Toronto. But while her beautiful works are deeply rooted in African heritage, there are lessons here that defy the boundaries of race.River Of Life, her show at Todmorden Mills, begins with a wall display of figures in black history, including Queen Charlotte Sophia (wife of George III), who the artist points out was part African and an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth. Below the picture is a pool of water, and in that pool a little boat, and in that boat is a miniature Winsom sitting between her daughter and mother. A doll, the spirit of the sea, watches over them.
Back on land, a small patch of earth supports an altar at the head of a river -- a long winding piece of translucent blue cloth. Along its route, bamboo shoots are propped in cups of water, and red lanterns -- symbols of the Underground Railroad -- are unlit, showing that the way is safe.
The river forks, and at the end of each stream is a portrait of one of Winsom's aunts or grandmothers. Beneath each portrait lie a number of objects cherished by that person. One aunt loved white rum and cigars. Another was a postmistress who made ice cream. Beneath a third are an old record and a nurse's hat. One grandmother liked coffee in a proper cup with a saucer. The other would only drink coffee from an old metal mug. The dearness of those objects and the old archival photos make the room feel full of life.
At the show's opening, there was a dance performance. Onlookers were asked to hold onto the dancer's flowing red robes, thus becoming part of the movement. The river symbolized veins and the red garment blood.
With simple grace, we're reminded that we all have the same liquid coursing through our bodies. We are all of the same beautiful world.