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Fragments Of Epic Memory will mark the first chance to see photos from the gallery's Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs
Untitled, 7 Women (2019), a unique picotage on inkjet print, coloured pencil and spray paint on museum board by Paul Anthony Smith (101.6 x 127 cm). Part of the Hott Collection, New York. courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Three years after the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) acquired a significant collection of historical photos of the Caribbean, the museum is putting the work on display.
Opening on September 1, Fragments Of Epic Memory will feature a small selection of images from the Montgomery Collection of Caribbean Photographs, as well as a mix of contemporary and newly commissioned works by artists Ebony Patterson, Sir Frank Bowling, Rodell Warner, Sandra Brewster and Zak Ové.
It marks the first show organized through the AGO’s new Department of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, headed up by curator Julie Crooks.
“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,” the gallery said in a statement.
“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,” Crooks added in a statement. “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.”
The show is the public’s first chance to see photos from the Montgomery Collection, which includes over 3,500 artifacts, from daguerreotypes and albums to photos showing the region between the Caribbean’s post-slavery and pre-independence period (1840-1940). The collection encompasses portraits, landscapes and other subjects, mainly shot by European and American photographers in the region.
“Most of the photos were generated by Europeans for the purposes of tourism, and yet these photos were used to illustrate what slavery was like,” collector Patrick Montgomery told NOW in 2019. “There is need for a great deal of scholarship to better understand what the photos show and to put them in their proper context.”
The AGO was able to secure the collection thanks two years of fundraising efforts within Toronto’s Black and Caribbean communities led by collector and AGO board member Kenneth Montague.
Fragments Of Epic Memory will also include a newly commissioned 18-foot-high mixed media sculpture by Trinidadian British-born artist Zak Ové entitled Moko Jumbie. It will be unveiled in the AGO’s atrium ahead of the exhibition’s opening.
Works spanning painting, sculpture and video installations by than 30 artists are represented in the show.
Guyanese-born painter Sir Frank Bowling’s massive Middle Passage (1970), a loan from the National Gallery of Canada, will be on display. Paul Anthony Smith’s Untitled, 7 Women (2019), on loan from the Hott Collection, uses a technique called picotage’ to obscure subjects with textural geometric patterns that mimic ornate Caribbean architectural elements.
Other works include photos by Vanley Burke and Robert Charlotte, paintings by Leasho Johnson and multi-media works by Suchitra Mattai and Andrea Chung.
The show will be on display through February 21.
The AGO reopened to the public on July 21 after Ontario entered step 3 of the reopening plan.
Other shows on display include the first solo museum exhibition by Toronto-born Chinese Canadian artist Matthew Wong, entitled Matthew Wong: Blue View, opening on August 17; and a retrospective on pop art icon Andy Warhol, which runs to October 24.