Arts Against Post Racialism transforms the Agnes

African-Canadian artists challenge racism on campus

On Wednesday, the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre was transformed into a visual protest against racism. 

Curated by lead artist Camille Turner, the exhibition Arts Against Post Racialism works to combat the existence of “blackface” on Canadian campuses through a variety of media by prominent Black artists. 

On entering the Agnes on Oct. 25, guests were greeted by artist Nadine Valcin’s video installation titled Emergence. Her series of slow motion portrait shots, double projected on the walls of the Agnes, presented the beauty and strength behind Blackness. It offers an image of Black identity before it was appropriated.  

Moving on to Unwearable by Esmaa Mohamoud, this piece rejects blackface in the form of Black faced masks that have sealed backs — making them literally unwearable and impossible to appropriate. While this piece isn’t colourful or extravagant, it embodied the protest against racism found throughout the exhibit. 

This full day event also celebrated African-Canadian artists like Quentin VerCetty. His body of work entitled Think Tomorrow, imagines a future in which blackface is an archaic concept of the past. The shifting holographic image of two African busts in Water No Get Enemy, portray this utopian society through bright colours and a surrealist-like landscape. 

The use of holographic images also invites viewers to not only linger over each piece, but also to pace back and forth and watch the images evolve. While most print art is simply stared at in museums, VerCetty’s work allows people to engage with the art through the use of these unusual holographic images.

As a non-Black student, I appreciated the interactive aspects present throughout the exhibition. The event wasn’t a mere call for change from African Canadians; it was a prompt for conversation. 

That day, VerCetty also hosted a workshop at the Agnes, inviting guests to make collages pertaining to campus racism. 

While some addressed issues such as blackface, others broadened the scope to the marginalization of Indigenous students. Not only was this event inclusive because of the conversations it fostered, but also because it allowed people to become a part of the exhibit. 

Camille Turner’s Afronautic Research Lab also offered an interactive experience to the exhibition. Over the centre’s sound system in the David McTavish room, a neutral voice informed visitors about Canada’s history of oppression. 

Turner’s conceptual piece invites people to sit and investigate documents on racism, as well as insert their own observations of the reports using sticky notes provided. These documents included primary resources such as sale statements for slaves and further evidence of Canada’s long history with racism. 

Among these documents, I also found several recent articles covering incidents of blackface at Canadian universities. One 2014 article from The Toronto Star, titled “Brock University will not discipline blackface costume winners,” hit close to home with memories of last November’s controversial costume party.

As Turner’s exhibit lays out proof of racism on the table for open discussion, instances of campus racism should be a constant topic in order to reach resolution. 

Arts Against Post Racialism was a necessary reminder to Queen’s that racism permeates our campus, despite our best efforts to create an inclusive environment. However, this exhibition provides the forum to begin to understand and reconcile these issues, as well as hope for a better future.  

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.