KARA WALKER at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dunda West), ongoing. $18, stu/srs $12, free Wednesday 6-8:30 pm. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN
CATHERINE FARQUHARSON at Lens Factory (1040 Queen West), to February 28. 416-988-0929. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNN
While Barack Obama was ascending to the presidency, racially segregated proms were still alive and well in the South.
Just last year, a group of Canadians visited Charleston, Mississippi, where, after trying since the 90s, celebrity resident Morgan Freeman finally got the town's high school to allow him to sponsor an interracial prom. Catherine Farquharson shot photos, while Paul Saltzman made the documentary Prom Night In Mississippi, which debuted at Sundance.
Charleston's separate, privately funded school dances are one indicator of the failure of government-mandated school integration to change many of the realities of racial inequality. A report about the project that aired on U.S. public radio left many listeners shocked at the persistence of such official segregation.
Farquharson, a Toronto photojournalist, draws on her experience as a wedding photographer to capture the excitement of the teens' preparations, as they get hair and nails done or wash their cars, in three large sheets of storytelling snapshot-sized images. She demonstrates a way with colour in vivid large prints that celebrate the happy event. It's an interesting, timely and hopeful exhibit.
For those, like actor Freeman, who are critical of the idea of confining black history to a month, the AGO offers ongoing viewing in its permanent collection of two works by a premier artist who's taken African-American history as her subject.
Kara Walker explores the complexities of violence and sexual perversity underlying racism, sharply subverting the genteel 19th-century medium of cut-paper silhouettes.
In her two-screen video installations, Six Miles From Springfield On The Franklin Road and Lucy Of Pulaski, silhouettes become shadow puppets to perform wrenching silent-movie-style narratives of Reconstruction-era attacks on black communities.
Don't miss this brilliant U.S. artist when she speaks at the AGO on March 6, 7 pm ($15-$25).