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Where can you go to see Black and African art in Toronto?

As Black History Month ends, explore a spectrum of expression at these five locations
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Toronto is teeming with Black creativity; you just have to know where to look. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY
Toronto is teeming with Black creativity; you just have to know where to look. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY

Art is a gateway into another perspective and experience. It is a universal manner of human connection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these connections have been lost. However, exploring art may be a joyous way to revive them. 

Though Black History Month is coming to an end, engaging with Black creatives should be done all year round. Consider attending these exhibits, which can act as both a gateway into African and Black culture and a remedy for pandemic disconnect. Though some may not be accessible due to the current lockdown, they are worth visiting once restrictions are lifted.

1. The Art Gallery of Ontario 

Location: 317 Dundas Street West 

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has curated a collection of African art from a region south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Through several decades of collecting, Murray Frum built this collection of 95 works from a variety of tribes. The collection is an ensemble of various sculptures, structures, and masks that show the different interpretations of the human form through themes of birth, survival, death, and regeneration. 

Although the gallery is currently closed due to COVID-19, you can visit the AGO’s website to view select pieces. 

Certain pieces explore the ideas of power, leadership, and communication with the spirit world. Notable works include the “Mother and Child Bowl” of the Yoruba people, the “Male Mask” of the Lwalu people, and the “Throne” of the Bamum people. 

The gallery is also showing the Dawoud Bey, John Edmonds, Wardell Milan exhibition until April 18. These three generations of contemporary African American artists use photography as a medium to depict the Black American experience and representation. Some notable works include “Untitled #20 (Farmhouse & Picket Fence II),” “Untitled (Du-Rag 3),” and “Michael Ross.”

2. The Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue Gallery

Location: 19 Brock Avenue 

Joints + Junctions: PRESENTing Hogan’s Alley at the Black Artists’ Networks is screening a noteworthy film in Dialogue Gallery until March 29. Artists Cornelia Wyngaarden and Andrea Fatona shed light on the previously unrecorded history of Hogan’s Alley by exploring the formation and growth of Vancouver’s first concentrated Black community. 

Hogan’s Alley was an area in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood and home to the city’s Black community. The neighbourhood, formed in the early 1900s, housed restaurants, a chapel, and quarters for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a Black labour union. In the 1970s, construction of viaducts, as well as efforts by the city to prevent residents from obtaining mortgages, displaced the population. 

This photographic series presents a story of resilience and traditions of Black communities. Screening of the film will be made available to those who RSVP on their website.  

3. Aga Khan Museum 

Location: 77 Wynford Drive

Take a tour of the Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa exhibit on the Aga Khan Museum website. It is a journey through the 250 works, many of which are being shown in North America for the first time. The collaboration between the realm of archaeology and art creates a display of what there once was. This exploration will demonstrate how African empires connected the medieval world.  

4. African Drums & Art Crafts

Location: 618 Dundas Street West 

For a fun and interactive art experience, look no further than African Drums & Art Crafts. This creativity hub cultivates a welcoming environment to learn about African culture by diving into visual arts like carvings, masks, jewellery, greeting cards, and more. In addition to drumming workshops, the shop features African dance lessons, performances, and educational experiences. This can be enjoyed as a fun group activity and an opportunity to learn new skills.

5. The Royal Ontario Museum 

Location: 100 Queen’s Park

As COVID-19 has resulted in many closures, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) features various online interactive activities. A notable activity includes the ROM Collections Map, which explores various artifacts and artistic pieces by region. Each piece has an accompanying description exploring its relevance and facts. The ROM also features an exhibit called Galleries of Africa: Nubia

This exhibit highlights the artistic achievements of the period through archaeological discoveries of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization site of Meroe and the lost civilization of ancient Nubia.