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10 Black Canadian Visual Artists To Discover

As we mark the first day of Black History Month in 2024, we wanted to take the time to acknowledge and amplify the extraordinary contributions of some of the Black Canadian visual artists whose unique perspectives and powerful visual narratives have been historically underrepresented. Join us as we delve into the backgrounds behind these visionaries, exploring the intersection of culture, identity, and creativity. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, we hope it serves as a starting point for further exploration. 

David Woods

“David Woods is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer and performer. He was the organizing founder of the Black Artists Network of Nova Scotia (BANNS) in 1992 and also founded or co-founded several other African Nova Scotian arts organizations, including African Nova Scotian Quilters Association, Cultural Awareness Youth Group, New Brunswick Black Artists Alliance, North Preston Cultural Association, Preston Cultural Festival, Vale Quilters Association, Voices Black Theatre Ensemble and Voices Storytellers. He has curated acclaimed exhibitions of African Nova Scotian art and quilts, including In This Place and The Secret Codes. He was the first person of African descent to serve as a curator at a provincial art museum (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia 2006-2007). His paintings have appeared in exhibitions across Canada and grace the covers of several award-winning CDs and literary publications. He is the winner of major prizes for his art, poetry and drama and was awarded the prestigious Harry Jerome Award (2016) for his contributions to the arts in Canada.”

Camille Turner

“Camille Turner is an artist/scholar whose work combines Afrofuturism and historical research. Her most recent explorations confront the entanglement of what is now Canada in the transatlantic trade in Africans. She puts into practice Afronautics, a methodological frame she developed to approach colonial archives from the point of view of a liberated future. Camille is a graduate of OCAD and has recently completed a PhD at York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. Currently, she is a Provost’s postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. Turner is the recipient of the 2022 Artist Prize by the Toronto Biennial of Art. Her artworks are held in museums and public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Royal Bank of Canada, Museum London, The Wedge Collection and The Rooms.”

Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown

“Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown was an African Canadian artist. She is thought to be the first documented Black female painter in Canadian art history. Only four of her oil paintings produced between 1898 and 1906 survived a razing of Africville, a community in Halifax. According to Mrs. Geraldine Parker, Macdonald-Brown’s granddaughter and steward of the four paintings, Macdonald-Brown was an accomplished painter and an intelligent, tender and conservative woman who may have studied in Montreal. She was the wife of William Brown; however, her paintings are signed by Edith MacDonald, suggesting she painted them before she was married. Unfortunately, there is little information regarding their production. While many questions remain unanswered about Macdonald-Brown’s work, the discovery of these paintings is a significant attestation of an African Canadian artistic presence prior to the twentieth century, a detail that contrasts popular Canadian art historical discourse.”

Denyse Thomasos

“Denyse Thomasos was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, emigrating with her family to Toronto at the age of six, where they joined the city’s dynamic Afro-Caribbean community. She studied at the University of Toronto and Yale School of Art, eventually taking up a teaching position at Rutgers University. Her extensive international travels and research fuelled her understanding of the histories and legacies of oppression, examining the ways in which we organize ourselves in physical and social space. Thomasos was known for her abstract-style wall murals that conveyed themes of slavery, confinement and the story of African and Asian Diaspora. "Hybrid Nations" (2005) is one of her most notable pieces that features her signature use of dense thatch-work patterning and architectonic images to portray images of American super-jails and traditional African weave-work.”

Robert S. Duncanson

“Robert Duncanson was the first recorded African American landscape artist. After working as an itinerant painter throughout the 1840s, he moved to Cincinnati and established himself professionally, accepting commissions for murals, portraits, and landscapes. During his thirty-year career, Duncanson became known as the foremost painter of the Ohio River valley. He also achieved international recognition for his large-scale, epic landscapes inspired by literature, such as Land of the Lotus Eaters (1861), which was purchased for the collection of the king of Sweden. Duncanson fled Cincinnati in 1863 because of the eruption of racial tensions and the American Civil War. He came to Montreal, where he stayed briefly (1863-65) before travelling to Europe. In Montreal, his paintings were exhibited to critical acclaim. The influence of his style can be seen in the paintings of the Canadians Allan Edson (who was his student), John A. Fraser, and Otto R. Jacobi.”

Justin Augustine

“After earning a BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in 1999, Justin Augustine quickly established a reputation as a brilliant up-and-coming painter. He was featured in numerous solo and group shows across Nova Scotia and also took part in international exhibitions in the USA, England and France, including an international touring exhibition on Bob Marley And Beyond (2000). Augustine is known for his well-executed human figures, often posed in unexplained and mysterious settings. In 2001 he created “In A Foreign Land” – a series of paintings that feature the artist juxtaposed in the landscapes of local Black communities.”

Edward Mitchell Bannister

“Edward Mitchell Bannister was a Black Canadian American artist whose pastoral landscapes and seascapes made him the most well-known painter in Rhode Island in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Bannister spent the early part of his career in Boston before moving to Providence, where he was a leading artist for thirty years. Achieving financial and critical success when slavery and racial segregation were realities in America, the artist and ardent abolitionist declared: “I have been sustained by an inborn love of art and accomplished all I have undertaken through the severest struggles.” 

Martine Chartrand

“Martine Chartrand is a Haitian Canadian filmmaker, visual artist and teacher. She practices a paint-on-glass animation technique to create her films. Throughout Chartrand's career, she has been involved with numerous films and has made three animated shorts which have been exhibited across Canada and internationally. Her films often deal with social and cultural issues relating to Black culture and Black history.”

Bushra Junaid

“Bushra Junaid is a Canadian artist, curator and arts administrator based in Toronto. She is best known for exploring history, memory and cultural identity through mixed media collage, drawing and painting. Born in Montreal to Jamaican and Nigerian parents and raised in St. John'sNewfoundland and Labrador, Junaid's work frequently engages themes of Blackness, the African diaspora and the history of Atlantic Canada. In addition to exhibiting her work across Canada, in provincial galleries and artist-run centres, Junaid illustrated “Nana's Cold Days” (Groundwood Books) and has exhibited at Painted City Gallery, Galerie Céline Allard, Spence Gallery, Harbourfront CentreToronto Reference Library, the NFB, and Sandra Brewster's Open House.”

Sandra Brewster

“Based in Toronto, Sandra Brewster works in drawing, video, photo-based works, and installation. Her themes focus on identity and representation, and movement in the depiction of gesture resulting in a re-presentation of the portrait.  She uses specific landscapes as metaphors and manipulates old photographs to centre the people within them.  Born to Guyanese parentage, series of her work refers to the migration of Caribbean people from the region, suggesting a formation of identity that encompasses multiple geographies and temporalities, a sense of identity that exists within the diaspora.”

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