‘With Opened Mouths’ challenges Western art traditions

Exhibition and podcast are a breath of fresh air

With Opened Mouths: The Podcast features inspiring guests.
Supplied by 'With Opened Mouths'

With Opened Mouths is a new podcast hosted by Qanita Lilla, curator of the exhibition of the same name at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Lilla sits down with artists, musicians, and spoken word poets to discuss how they express their creativity.

The exhibition features traditional West African masks, face coverings, hoods, helmets, and crests from the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection. The overarching question of how non-Western art can belong in a Western art museum connects both mediums.

In an interview with The Journal, Lilla explained how the presumptions and expectations of Western museums often act as cultural and artistic barriers.

“[Western art] is typically shown in glass cases with lighting that looks a certain way and has a very academic type of premise that shapes the show,” she said.

These traditional limitations inspired Lilla to get creative in her curation.

“I wanted to think about how African mosques were used as part of a masquerade in Africa, what their role was, and what is missing in the art museum context.”

Lilla explained that typically, the types of West African masks in the With Opened Mouths exhibit would be seen in community events. There would be music and a sense of theatricality impossible to replicate in a typical Western art museum.

With Opened Mouths: The Podcast is one way Lilla is working to grow the exhibition into something greater than just art out on display.

Across its seven episodes—four of which are currently released—Lilla has spoken to a wide variety of creatives about their journeys and how they’ve found and expressed their voices while transcending the artistic barriers ingrained into society.

“I wanted to open up the [Agnes] platform more broadly,” she said. “I wanted to get a broader sense of how [people] would respond to the theme of expressing your creativity, and how you were brave enough to look inside and do what you think you need to do in the world.”

During the first episode of With Open Mouths, Lilla introduces listeners to the themes of the podcast and contextualizes her South African heritage.

“I was in South Africa when I was thinking about this exhibition and these ideas,” she said.

Lilla’s search for guests ultimately became an organic process. Her first interviewee was hip-hop artist Jameel3DN—his music is now the soundtrack for the podcast series.

“I was looking for a piece of music, and I know that hip-hop is very popular among the African community in Canada, so I just thought it would be a really good idea to get a hip-hop artist to respond to the themes of the exhibition.”

Lilla hopes the experiences shared by the guests on her podcast will motivate other artists to find their voice and get comfortable with taking risks.

“When you’re looking for employment, you can look at CV and it looks quite clear and linear. People want to have one plan throughout their whole life, but it hardly ever works out that way.”

With Opened Mouths: The Podcast is available at Digital AGNESCFRC’s website, and popular podcasting platforms like Apple, Google and Spotify.

The exhibition is on display at the Agnes until Jan. 30.


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