>>> Fade to black: Zun Lee’s Polaroids tell African-American stories

ZUN LEE at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West), to February 28. 416-531-4635. Rating: NNNN See listing. Found photographs have a special.


ZUN LEE at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West), to February 28. 416-531-4635. Rating: NNNN See listing.


Found photographs have a special poignancy. They suggest scattered and neglected legacies, their existence at large evidence of a break in the chain. Somebody was forgotten, or someone couldn’t afford to remember.

But this is only part of what makes Zun Lee’s current Fade Resistance exhibit so effective. Taken entirely in working-class African-American communities in the 1970s and 80s, Lee’s found Polaroids arranged in neat grids show the private hopes and day-to-day lives of a minority community while also providing an overview of people and neighbourhoods largely invisible to the larger society.

Like most informal photos, these record the desire to be seen and remembered. The Instagram of its day, Polaroids made the documentation of daily life nearly instant and accessible to ordinary people. Milestones are celebrated with big smiles, gatherings of families and friends around tables are memorialized. And there are plenty of moments of defiant, iconic style. 

Visibility and identity have always been central issues for the black community in North America. As bell hooks has explained, black identity is always fashioned in the complex and oppositional dynamic of its status as a minority identity in the larger context of white society. 

Fade Resistance shows this dynamic playing out in private, relaxed and celebratory moments. Looking into the living rooms of black families, we can extrapolate a textured social history, a window into lives that have often escaped our gaze.

art@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This Week’s Issue