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OCAD University launches centre to examine contemporary Black visual artists

Recognizing and appreciating contemporary Black artists, craftspeople, curators and critics – who for so long have been under-represented in Canadian culture – is the focus of the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora being launched today by OCAD University.

Established and led by associate professor, art curator and scholar Dr. Andrea Fatona, the centre will – for the first time in Canada – comprehensively showcase in a single, central platform the artistic creations of contemporary Black visual artists and craftspeople in this country whose works have historically been under-recognized or ignored altogether.

“Anti-Black racism has shaped the way in which Blackness has been present in Canada, and also incredibly absent. So, this project is about rectifying that erasure or minimal exposure, and achieving formal recognition of Black folks who have contributed to the sphere of fine arts in Canada,” says Dr. Fatona, whose work is the focus of her Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Canadian Black Diasporic Cultural Production, which was announced last December.

The centre is the next chapter of three decades of work by Dr. Fatona to rectify the absence of Black visual fine artists, media artists and craftspeople who, due to decades of pervasive systemic racism, have been excluded from the Canadian art world’s “official record”: catalogues, galleries and reviews. This absence has extended to the contributions of Black art curators and critics, whose work has also generally been relegated to the margins of the sector.

“Dr. Fatona’s groundbreaking work will help advance visibility and equity in the fine arts while allowing all of us to engage more actively and meaningfully with the works of Black contemporary visual artists,” says Ana Serrano, OCAD U’s President and Vice Chancellor. “OCAD University is proud to champion artistic research and practice that enriches the field and aligns with our institutional values of inclusion and diversity.”

The Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora launched on March 18, 2021 at the virtual event, The State of Blackness: Revisited. This free public event featured a conversation between scholar Dr. Rinaldo Walcott and artist Camille Turner on shifts in the sphere of Black Canadian cultural production.

About the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora

The centre’s main initiative is developing an online State of Blackness platform that will serve as a repository of all visual artworks by Black Canadians from 1987 – when the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was first proposed, before becoming law the following year – to the present day.

It will simultaneously provoke reflection on our country’s track record regarding representation of Black cultural producers during official multiculturalism, and achieve long-overdue formal recognition for these artists and craftspeople.

To carry out this work, Dr. Fatona and her team are conducting extensive research to identify and then digitize visual artworks produced by Black artists and craftspeople over this time period. The process involves liaising with art galleries and artist-run centres across Canada to identify Black-produced artworks in their collections. The goal is to add these works to the platform and include links to the original gallery webpages or digital catalogues.

Critically, Dr. Fatona’s team will contextualize each artwork to better reflect its cultural aspects and significance by augmenting existing descriptions. They are also creating new, culturally relevant metadata categories and search algorithms to increase how findable these artworks are in web searches. To guide the work of the centre, an advisory committee has been created with experts including artists, scholars, curators and writers.