By Flossie Mbiriri
Collective Intricacies is a group exhibition curated by Tamara Steele, an artist, a community leader, and the Executive Director of the Black Cultural Society of Prince Edward Island (full disclosure: I also work for the BCSPEI.). Currently on display at the Eptek Art & Culture Center in Summerside and co-presented by this town is small, it features work by five Black artists living in PEI. Steele’s aim is to explore individuality among a group of people who are often considered one culture, rather than many cultures that make up a community. For her, curating the exhibition was an opportunity to showcase the differences that exist within the Black community – something that is not always understood by the wider population. So, each artist got their own wall and contributed works that best represent them and their art practice.
The big, black, and bold curls taking up half the space on a six by eight-foot vinyl canvas are the first things you see when you walk into the gallery. A crown reading “Divine Muva” holds to one side a section of hair. Divine Muva is stylish and sophisticated, but casual too. Her eyes are like windows into the galaxy. The words she speaks her: Truth, Authenticity, Community Care, Wisdom, Create, Magik, Faith, and Sistahood. Below her, three figures with dollar signs in their eyes and mouths linger. They share one body, perhaps united in intent. On their belly is the map of the world and a triangle next to the African continent. The triangle is the middle passage, what the artist, King Kxndi, describes as the genocide no one talks about. But at the foot of this large black and white painting is the cup of Love. Its ascending energy embodies everything above. The artist has portrayed Black femininity – a theme that will echo throughout the exhibition.
Sammo Mossa‘s mixed media on canvas paintings also feature a Black woman. They show her relationship with nature, religion, or the world. In Hermit, a scarcely dressed woman is asleep on the grass and, tossed beside her, is a mobile phone and pistol. In the sky, the hand of God reaches out to her, busting forth from the chaos. The hand is welcoming, calling to her while a sea of water separates them. The question is: can we see the saving grace beyond the sea of chaos?
Chester Hewlett‘s digital art carries a futuristic, almost superhuman dimension to the human mind and emotion. In Eye To Eye, three identical males in matching translucent orange print suits and sci-fi inspired black glasses stand half emersed in water. They gaze ahead, devoid of emotion, but bold and confident. Hewlett’s work portrays the ability to break boundaries with the mind, when the body can’t.
Shawna Gibson, known as Baha Royalty, also uses bold colors, textures, and shapes, but fuses them with human figures, tropical trees, and huts. A black head with big locks and a somber look stands out in the deep green painting. He is surrounded by a careful blend of dancing figures, musical notes, and palm trees in a way to express what he feels. Gibson’s art is a celebration of culture and music.
The subtly playful tune from an animated video draws you back to the small TV screen by the door. Two black and white animations, Be careful where you sneeze and 2022, play on a loop. In one, a character sneezes while at a bus stop. Those around frown. These animations by the artist Martology are a reflection of the state of mind of many in society today.
The music heard throughout the gallery ties everything together. The themes vary, as do the mediums used. The art tells a human story, but from the unique perspective of each of the artists. Each work sets a different mood, they show beauty in different ways, and portray ordinary activities, elements of spirituality, introspection, history, social norms, and culture. Collective Intricacies provides a well-rounded display of talent by PEI’s Black artists.
Collective Intricacies continues until June 3.
Eptek Art & Culture Centre: https://www.peimuseum.ca/visit/eptek-art-culture-centre
The gallery is accessible.
Flossie Mbiriri is a writer based in Charlottetown.