Recognizing Black History Month

The Greenwood community recognized the start of Black History Month with a special presentation by the AGO’s Lauren Springs and Quentin VerCetty on Art and the African Diaspora. 

Lauren and Quentin began their presentation with an acknowledgement of the traditional territories upon which the AGO is situated. Quentin encouraged everyone to use the Native-Land map which helps non-Indigenous people learn about the history of the land they inhabit.

The foundation of Lauren and Quentin’s presentation was four of their favourite pieces from the AGO's Art and the African Diaspora collection. They discussed the history of the artists and the meaning behind each piece of work.

Quentin introduced the first piece of work, which was a photograph taken in 1880 by Gaston Fabre titled Négresse Charbonnière. This piece features a Caribbean woman posing in front of a painted backdrop (see photo below). Quentin talked about the history of this photograph and its relation to the economy during the late 1800s and the end of slavery. Based on the woman’s outfit and the basket she is standing on, he believes she was a sharecropper. Because photos of people posing were really uncommon in the late 1800s, Quentin also believes this woman had just been freed from slavery. Her powerful stance and look of confidence show a story of resilience.

Lauren presented the second piece of work, which was a statue designed by Willie Cole in 2008 titled Mother and Child. Willie Cole likes to draw on materials from popular culture and uses what he finds in his immediate surroundings. One object he enjoys using is shoes, which is what this statue is made from (see photo of statue below). Willie believes shoes that we have walked on for a long time imprint our stories. When Willie is looking for shoes to showcase in his art, he often goes to thrift stores or accepts donations because they have a greater story to tell. 

When reading the title of this statue, Mother and Child, Lauren asked the Greenwood community what they thought the connection was between the artwork and the title. Some of the interpretations students and staff had were:
  • A mother creating a path for her children
  • Walking and guiding future generations
  • High heels symbolize status, power and pain, confidence, discomfort
  • Soles facing forward means connection to the soul of the child
Willie finds a lot of meaning in what we would normally see as everyday objects. Lauren challenged students to choose an object in their home and think of ways they can interpret it differently. She also had students trace their chosen object on a piece of paper and make it into a human-like form. It was a great exercise that had them thinking creatively and building a deeper connection to ‘ordinary’ items.

After this exercise, Lauren showed the third piece of art, which was a blurred photograph of a woman (see photo below). This image was taken by Sandra Brewster as part of her series, Blur. Sandra lives in downtown Toronto and sees that it’s a very diverse city with a vast majority of the population being immigrants. Sandra started to associate her work with the idea of movement and the complexity of mixed backgrounds moving around her. She is also fascinated by old photos of her ancestors which are often blurry and imperfect. Sandra also reflects on the fact that when an immigrant family is thinking about moving to Canada it’s because they believe life here is great, which is not always the case. There are still a lot of hardships and social inequalities. Those hard experiences are reflected in her photographs - the stories and hardships are what make us stronger and the imperfections are what build our stories.

Quentin discussed the last piece of work, which is a puppetry display created by Jérôme Havre titled Legacy. Havre is a Toronto-based artist who has brought puppetry into the world of activism and civil rights. His work touches on issues of identity, territory and community through the representation of nature. His process - painting the puppets, designing their clothes and really making them come to life - is very much a part of his message. You can read more about his work and watch a video of his creative process here.

Lauren and Quentin ended their session with an activity that required students to draw an outline of their hand. They then had students and staff write positive words about themselves inside of their drawn hand and share those words with the Greenwood community. It was a great way to end a wonderful presentation. Thank you Quentin and Lauren!

Throughout Black History Month, there will be many opportunities for Greenwood students to set individual learning intentions, and to take action on those intentions by engaging with school programming. Greenwood’s DEI team also has provided a list of resources featuring movies, books, businesses and more, to encourage students to learn about the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their part in shaping Canada’s history. A link to these resources can be found here.
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Greenwood College School

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