THREE-THIRTY as part of CONTACT PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL at Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute (150 Tapscott), Malvern Public Library (30 Sewells) and Doris McCarthy Gallery (1265 Military Trail). October 3-December 18. Free. contactphoto.com.
While Anique Jordan was in the preliminary research stage for Three-Thirty, the exhibition she curated for the Contact Photography Festival, the curator and artist came across a city surveyor in the street and asked him about his job. The conversation quickly veered toward the role of surveying in our modern city, and the role of surveyors historically to create colonial demarcations of the land.
We live in a city where owning property imbues people and institutions with a certain power. Jordan asked him how those who cannot afford to own property or who have zero desire to can impact the way the city is shaped. They can’t, he responded.
This idea of power and agency, who wields it and who doesn’t, is at the centre of Three-Thirty, which opens October 3. The group show comprises work by three artists spread across cultural landmarks in Scarborough’s Malvern neighbourhood: the Malvern Public Library, Lester B. Pearson Collegiate Institute and Doris McCarthy Gallery at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus.
“I was really thinking about the people who are told they don’t have power to change their city, to enact change on their environment or to impact the spaces they live in,” Jordan explains. “What are the moments that those people are countering that narrative?”
This guiding curatorial question led her to the work of poet Kei Miller, whose book The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion she drew inspiration from. The book-long poem pits the purely analytical and scientific approach of a cartographer against the community-focused Rastafarian man to consider whose map would be a more accurate depiction of the region.
The poem asks the dominant and hegemonic forces: What do you know about how we should live?
Jordan titled the exhibition Three-Thirty to play off the after-school programs many kids in Scarborough rely on. She grew up on the outskirts of Malvern. For her, the Malvern library and the Malvern Community Recreation Centre were beacons for children and teenagers to craft a world of their own making.
“Outside of the supervision of an education system or guardianship or whatever household environment they’re in, I wanted to think about that moment after school where young people primarily map their own way, develop their own lexicon and do what they want,” she says.
In tandem with her artistic practice, Jordan has a background in community and youth work. Malvern is a neighbourhood with the highest concentration of young people in Toronto. She wanted to centre this exhibition, which is all about power and who possess it, around children and teenagers living in the city’s periphery. The work allows them to reclaim a sense of power over their lives by developing their own gestures and social rituals, determining their own safety and creating ways of communicating.
Following the recent crescendo of Black Lives Matter protests and the impact the pandemic has had on at-risk communities, Jordan decided to expand the project beyond young people to reflect all kinds of voices who have been omitted or relegated to the margins.
In her research, she read documents about the planning and mapping of Malvern in the 1960s. She discovered that the region was designed without an economic centre, making it difficult to attain economic prosperity and with enclave-like micro-communities that created boundaries between people.
“They were designed like that intentionally,” says Jordan. “My questions are: How does a city think about who actually lives there, and how do we give space for people to create what they need when the city couldn’t have imagined that to begin with?”
The three artists exhibiting work inside Doris McCarthy Gallery are Aaron Jones, Ebti Nabag and Kelly Fyffe-Marshall. Both Jones and Nabag also have murals outside the library and the school.
Jones created a series of 13 collages using images from the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage book collection, the largest of its kind in Canada, which will be displayed in the gallery. He then collaged those 13 artworks to create a 23-foot mural to be displayed on the Malvern library’s south facade. His work dispels traditional ideas of knowledge-building, critiquing the Dewey Decimal System in favour of new ways of classifying knowledge coming from the body or from ancestral worlds.
Down the street, Nabag will show two photo murals at Pearson Collegiate depicting students in their element, posing with friends. Before the pandemic, she did workshops to teach the students about film and digital photography and visual storytelling. They set up a studio inside of the high school and Nabag documented the students laughing, taking selfies, squaded up. The images are reminiscent of famed New York street photographer Jamel Shabazz, whose work on youth culture inspired both Nabag and Jordan.
The murals will be on the front of the school, greeting students as they enter into a learning environment that is now much different from when the photos were taken.
“None of the subjects are wearing masks because this was all taken before Covid,” says Jordan. “It’s kind of incredible for students to walk into school and see these images because now they have to wear masks, they have class every other day because things are online, they can’t hug their friends, they can’t take photos like this anymore. And it’s all BIPOC kids – it’s just so powerful to me.”
Inside of the gallery, documentary filmmaker Fyffe-Marshall’s three-panel video features a series of interviews. The director asked different people, “What does power look like for you in the midst of this moment of revolution?” All of the galleries and outdoor spaces are in close enough proximity that people can do a tour of the Malvern landmarks.
Additionally, four writers – Erica Violet Lee, Priya Ramanujam, Kevin Amar and Sampreeth Rao – are expanding upon the work with pieces exploring the relationships between spaces that are disregarded, how Scarborough is seen in regards to rest of the city, youth and youth journalism programs in the community and relationships to the land and the Rouge River.
Communities like Scarborough exist all over Canada. They’re encoded with their own verbiage, norms and traditions and are largely home to BIPOC populations. Malvern is mostly Jamiacan, Trinidadian, Guyanese, Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistani.
“When I think about Scarborough, I don’t think about it as existing as one geographic location,” says Jordan. “The way that Scarborough and the west end [of the city] are spoken about, the way that many people live within those communities means that there are so many communities like them all around Canada, all around the world. Communities that are largely immigrant or BIPOC or don’t have all the resources that a downtown core or places with larger investments have.
“They don’t get to be celebrated because they’re constantly written about and talked about as these places of lack. But within the community, there’s so much culture, there’s so much power.”