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10 LGBTQ+ Artists Who Redefined Contemporary Art



We took a look at 10 major LGBTQ+ artists who have helped define the landscape of contemporary art, whose work engages with themes of identity politics, sexuality, gender and race….

The art market has changed substantially over the past years. From competing with digital art and NFTs to the belated race to build stronger online presences, art market players were forced to reckon with their lack of participation in the progress of the 21st century, especially with the onset of the pandemic. But the changes that artists, collectors, and institutions are faced with took root way before this decade and concern not only art that is being currently created, but also individuals and works that came into being over the past 100 years. The undervaluation of minority groups is one of the strongest factors that has been driving prices – and LGBTQ+ artists certainly belong to that segment. Here are some of the most important figures who have shaped the LGBTQ+ art space over the past decades and today.

ABOVE: David Hockney (b. 1937), Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, 1966.

David Hockney

David Hockney is one of the most celebrated and established LGBTQ+ artists still working today. A mainstay of the British mainstream, Hockney has long been recognized for his playful, pop-primitivist works, combining cubism with a cartoonish flair to create tender depictions of queer domestic life. With no signs of slowing down, Hockney is undergoing a late-career renaissance, and continues to put out exciting new work year after year.

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When Hockney started out as an artist, homosexuality was still illegal in both the United States and his native Britain. Nonetheless, the pioneering artist set about depicting the gentle and intimate sides of gay love, from the very early moments of his long career. We Two Boys Together Clinging, 1961, is an abstract and delicate love letter to gay intimacy and queer experience. Since those early days, he has never shied away from depicting the male form, and has watched (and responded) as societal perceptions of homosexuality shift all around him. In his portrait in 16mm film, Portraits (2016), taken by the artist Tacita Dean, the 80 year old artist sits in front of camera and smokes five cigarettes. In the accompanying text he remarks: “It used to be you couldn’t be gay. Now you can be gay but you can’t smoke. There’s always something.”

Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is a African-American contemporary artist based in New York, who is well known for her complex paintings, made from extravagant combinations of rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel. Drawing on Western art history, pop art, and visual culture, Thomas examines and exposes conceptions of femininity, beauty, race, sexuality, and gender. Her work has often been praised for its honest and unique representation of same-sex desires from a female perspective, as well its considered documentation of significant moments in African American history and culture.

One of today’s leading LGBTQ+ artists, Thomas has made waves in the art world in part due to her capacity to possess and re-interpret the legacy of Dadaism as a black lesbian woman. Thomas’ work mixes elements of abstraction and collage alongside a fascination with textiles and texture; opulent fabrics, glitter, diamantes and colorful paint surround and enmesh the subjects of her work. Combining these unlikely elements in excess, Thomas revels in the splendor of profligacy, using her art to suggest that materiality has an irreducible place in the creation and re-configuration of identity.

ABOVE: Dale Lewis, Eurovision, 2014-2015. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Dale Lewis

An exciting young voice in the British scene, Dale Lewis began his career as an assistant to Damien Hirst, and later to Raqib Shaw. For seven years he worked painstakingly under these artists, placing thousands of tiny butterfly wings onto paint for Hirst, and working in microscopic detail on photorealist paintings for Shaw. Having carved out his own niche, the London-based artist has moved away from working in miniature, preferring to paint vast works, often two by four meters wide, which he completes in a single day.

Lewis’ style bears echoes of David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat – his satirical and markedly British paintings are executed in oil, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas, depicting scenes that sit somewhere between the surreal and the mundane. Mostly populated by spindly, white British males, Lewis’ bold paintings show carnivalesque scenes of boys dressed in Adidas trainers basking at the seaside, baroque gay orgies, birthday parties, whacked out funerals, and men engaging in gang violence. Beneath the subversive humour and startling compositional complexity of Lewis’ work lies a deep-rooted search for British identity.

ABOVE: Zanele Muholi, Lena, London, 2018. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Zanele Muholi

The South African photographer Zanele Muholi is a self described “visual activist,” whose work focuses primarily on the black female body and its historical representation in documentary film. Fighting back against the social inequality in post-Apartheid South Africa, Muholi uses her arresting queer portrait photography to give visibility to the nation’s attacked LGBTQ+ population. She is also the co-founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organization based in Gauteng and Inkanyisa, a platform for queer and visual activism.

In a country where honor killings and “corrective rapes” against lesbians are a lived threat, Muholi has to deal with the reality that many of the women she’s photographed have been killed. “The risk we take is on a daily basis,” Muholi told The Guardian, “just living, and thinking what might happen, not only to you but also your fellow activists and friends who are living their lives.”

ABOVE: David Wojnarowicz (1956-1992) Untitled (One day this kid . . .), 1990. Courtesy of Freeman’s.

David Wojnarowicz

David Wojnarowicz was a painter, photographer, and performance artist who incorporated personal narratives and experiences from his own life (and from those around him) into his work in order to create alternative histories and visions of society. A highly political and deeply personal artist, Wojnarowicz lived through the ‘80s AIDS epidemic, which he responded to often in his work, notably with his video piece “Fire in my Belly.” Wojnarowicz pushed the boundaries of queer aesthetics, combining the sexually explicit with the politically conscious, wielding an incisive comic wit. His work continued to explore his struggle with AIDS until he died from complications of the disease in 1992.

ABOVE: Lola Flash (b. 1959), Act Up, 1990, Photograph / Negative.

Lola Flash

Lola Flash is a celebrated New York-based visual artist who, in her own words, “uses photography to challenge stereotypes and offer new ways of seeing that transcend and interrogate gender, sexual, and racial norms.” Having documented the ever-changing landscapes of queer culture for over 30 years, her portraiture includes photographs of queer avant-garde trailblazers, demure older women, and trans people going about their daily lives. Flash started out in the 1980s, capturing anti-Reagan AIDS protests on film in New York. Always happy to interrogate queer culture itself, Flash’s work probes deeper. Her images of anti-Reagan protests in fact offer a critique of cis white gay men who fail to acknowledge the privilege inherent in both their gender and skin color, and thus prohibit the creation of a truly inclusive LGBTQ+ community. Her acid-like negative photograph “K,” 1989, depicts two muscular white men in tight underwear and Ku Klux Klan masks – a clear indication of her desire to challenge normalized and oppressive conceptions of gender, identity, and race from every angle.

ABOVE: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Self-Portrait Study with Two Figures (1506), 2015. Courtesy of Phillips.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a portrait photographer whose work reveals his subjects in tantalizing fragments: torsos, arms, legs, or feet – never the whole body. Through leaving something out, Sepuya challenges the relationship between photographer and sitter, creating a feeling of longing and wanting more. Often, his photographs are torn apart and rearranged with tape, allowing for a deep immersion into queer culture, as well conceptions of social and sexual exchange.

What makes Sepuya’s work so singular is his careful investigation of gaze and sensuality. Sepuya’s photos often seek to remind us of some important yet uncomfortable truths concerning photography’s historical predilection for mangling (in particular, black) queer bodies. Through ripping his subjects into fragments, and reassembling them himself, Sepuya imbues his portraits with power.

ABOVE: K8 Hardy, POSITION SERIES FORM 13, 2010. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

K8 Hardy

Well known for her work in fashion, K8 Hardy is a diverse multimedia artist – her photographs, performance pieces, and sculptures explore a variety of issues, from class, to race and gender. Hardy often incorporates herself as the subject of her own photographs, subverting the traditional hegemonic practice of male artists objectifying female bodies. In 2007, Hardy collaborated with queer feminist performance artist Wynne Greenwood on a performance piece at Tate Modern. The two artists wore berets and turtlenecks, adopting alternate identities as co-hosts of the fictional news station, WKRH, where they reported on fake news such as bra burning, and interviewed a friend who was suffering from anxiety. The press release for the exhibition, titled New Report, noted: “If the revolution will be televised today it is only by queering TV in order to encounter the desires of the subjects and histories it addresses.”

K8 Hardy is also a founding member of the queer feminist journal and artist collective LTTR, and has directed music videos for bands such as Le Tigre, Lesbians on Ecstasy, and Men. Some of her work is permanently housed at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

ABOVE: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Untitled, 1989. Courtesy of Asprie Art.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Rotimi Fani-Kayode was a Nigerian-born photographer, who moved to Britain as a child to escape the Nigerian Civil War, and later studied in the United States. His stylized photographic portraits address themes of colonialism, sexuality, and race; in particular the internal tensions between his own homosexual identity and Yoruba upbringing. Indeed, Fani-Kayode described himself as an outsider three times over: “On matters of sexuality; in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for.”

Fani-Kayode was also a prominent voice in the artistic discourse around HIV and AIDS throughout the 1980s, until he died in 1989 from a heart attack which he suffered whilst recovering from an AIDS related illness. Not only has the artist been praised for his provoking imagery of Africanness and queerness, he is also revered for his ability to explore racial and sexual politics through the lens of religious eroticism and beauty. Despite the complexity of their themes, his images often evoke a sense of fleeting beauty. In Bronze Head, 1987, Fani-Kayode acts as both artist and sitter – he is the one who both controls and frames this complex representation of his own identity, in an act that can be interpreted as evocatively sexual, or a surreal depiction of male childbirth.

ABOVE: Catherine Opie, Dyke, 1992. Courtesy of Christie’s.

Catherine Opie

Catherine Opie is an LGBTQ+ artist whose groundbreaking fine-art photography examines American identity through reimagining national/local iconography, and redefining landscapes. Opie has captured members of the American LGBTQ+ community, such as the Los Angeles Leather Dyke community, through her documentary photography projects. Her work often combines esoteric references to art history, with socio-political commentary, drawing inspiration from the transgressive photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin. The subjects of her work range from local football teams, to studies of master-plan communities, to S&M erotica created for lesbian owned sex magazines.

You can find more information, artists, auctions, exhibitions, and current trends at

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‘Art Hiding In Paris’ A Perfect Companion For Exploring The City Of Light – Forbes



No city has more artwork than Paris and no city is more artwork than Paris. Ornamental building façades enliven every surface in every direction. Uncountable statues and memorials and fountains creating the world’s largest outdoor sculpture park. Eiffel’s dramatic, soaring, Modernist spire.

There’s so much art in Paris–much of it right out in the open–many visitors don’t even realize the masterpieces they bypass on their way to the museum or café.

Following the success of 2020’s “Art Hiding in New York,” Lori Zimmer returns with “Art Hiding in Paris” (November 29, 2022; Running Press), another insightful, bouncy tour of parks, cafés, side streets, churches, cemeteries, train stations, hotel lobbies and, in this case, cabarets, calling attention to compelling artworks typically overlooked across Paris.

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Like a pair of massive spheres–each 20-feet across–commissioned by Louis the XIV.

A mural renovated in 2020 revealing, for the first time since Nazi occupation, Charlie Chaplin.

A sundial from Salvador Dalí.

Zimmer, a New Yorker, began spending large portions of each summer in Paris in 2017, a ritual she has continued through this year, 2020 being an exception. As soon as France began allowing U.S. tourists to return in June 2021, she was on one of the first flights back, her final push of researching and writing for this book.

Through all those previous summers and trips in between, however, Zimmer had been subtly preparing for “Art Hiding in Paris.”

“I would go to all this stuff anyway, that’s how I vacation, so it just made sense, if I’m (in Paris) and reading up on it anyway, I might as well start keeping tabs and writing about it just in case,” she told

Tidy, easily fit into a backpack or large purse, “Art Hiding in Paris” serves as a travel companion for exploring the city, each entry including which arrondissement–neighborhood–artworks can be found in along with their addresses. A map and index help visitors stack multiple sites into single excursions. Zimmer has also put together a series of self-guided walking itineraries–“Left Bank Lunch,” “Montmartre Morning”–for travelers to make the most of their limited time.

Also returning from “Art Hiding in New York” for “Art Hiding in Paris” is Zimmer’s childhood friend, Maria Krasinski, whose watercolor illustrations of featured locales again add spirited whimsey and personality to the book, making it an artwork of its own.

Picasso Sat Here

In Woody Allen’s delightful homage to the city, “Midnight in Paris,” a time-traveling Owen Wilson finds himself in 1920s Paris partying with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, discussing literature with Ernest Hemingway, competing for a lover with Pablo Picasso and having his novel reviewed by Gertrude Stein. Paris is about art, true, but there is no art without artists.

In addition to pointing out artworks around the city, “Art Hiding in Paris” shares with readers places where they can commune with cultural icons from the past.

The art supply shop frequented by Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and Van Gogh still furnishing brushes and paint. The cabaret where Loie Fuller and Josephine Baker danced. The historic square where Yoko Ono spread a handful of Keith Haring’s ashes. The studio where Picasso painted Guernica. The flat Theo van Gogh shared with his brother.

“Art Hiding in Paris” and the yearning it creates to visit the city hit high gear when detailing Paris’ numerous cafés, bars, restaurants and their legendary former patrons. An entire chapter is devoted to “Dining with the Masters.”

The bistro Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec invited Vincent van Gogh to join him in sipping absinthe. The brasserie where Diego Rivera, Hemingway and Amadeo Modigliani were regulars. Picasso’s studio was just nearby. The dance hall and open-air restaurant immortalized in one of Renoir’s greatest paintings.

Picasso, Modigliani, Hemingway, Man Ray, Max Ernest and their contemporaries frequented multiple establishments around town, “Art Hiding in Paris” points them out.

“I was inspired going to even the crappiest little café; I love that the ‘historic’ ones are still open, and they love their traditions,” Zimmer said. “They want (visitors) to connect to the past, and you’re also eating your meal, so it’s not just like going to the museum, it’s functional, but with the bonus of learning something and being able to transport to another time.”

“Midnight in Paris” for the rest of us.

Birthplace of the Flâneur

A flâneur is a dandy. A fancy gentleman who walks–saunters–the city streets, typically alone, observing its people and rituals. An urban explorer. Parisian Édouard Manet was a classic Flâneur.

Modern-day flâneurs will cherish “Art Hiding in Paris” for how it privileges pedestrians, Zimmer, after all, is one.

“I love to walk around and just be by myself sometimes,” she says. “More than New York even, for some reason, when I’m in Paris, I rarely take the train and I’ll look at the directions and think, ‘Oh, it’s only an hour and a half walk.’ In my head I think that’s totally fine where anywhere else (that’s crazy).”

Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast” was written about Paris and the adage remains true today. A never-ending feast for the eyes and ears and nose and mouth when experienced at street level, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes rich and intimate as only they can be on foot.

“Art Hiding in Paris” doesn’t work from the window of a tour bus–not at full capacity, anyway–this is a book for the pavement pounder, the curious, the slow traveler, the sidewalk savant, the look-arounder the flaneur.

City of Light

“Most of the streetlights cast that kind of yellowish glow and it was the perfect lighting to write to,” Zimmer recalls of the book’s production. “I would walk like 10 miles in the morning checking everything and then write all night to that light–it was cinematic.”

Zimmer’s writing is concise and unpretentious, with a dash of humor. Take her description of the Paris opera house as, “dripping with sculpture, gilding, crystals and ornate sumptuousness… a temple of antiquated opulence.”

With art everywhere, her greatest challenge was editing.

“It was so hard to decide what to not include, that was the hardest part,” Zimmer said. “I tried to make it a mix of some recognizable (landmarks) and some that no one would know anything about.”

Marc Chagall’s resplendent and familiar fresco on the ceiling of the before-mentioned opera house is admired and photographed by tens of thousands annually; in “Art Hiding in Paris” it is preceded by a doorway carving sharing a medieval love story few ever notice.

“Paris has such a range,” Zimmer said of the city’s public artworks. “For the historical aspects of ‘(Art Hiding in) New York,’ that all happened basically after or during World War II, whereas Paris had a bunch of different periods like the Belle Époque and in between the two wars was when the Bohemian dream happened. The Paris book is more well-rounded.”

As for the most difficult question: New York or Paris?

“Because I’ve been in New York for 17 years, I’m ready for Paris because I feel like I’ve mastered New York and I haven’t mastered Paris and I love unfamiliarity,” Zimmer said. “There’s no place like New York, but Paris is a wonderful place to be alone, to research and work, and that’s the cycle I’m in in my life right now.”

New Yorkers, don’t despair, if you can’t get enough of Zimmer’s commentary on the Big Apple, she has written short essays about an empty NYC during the pandemic for a different book, this one from her significant other, Logan Hicks–himself an artist–and his new book, “Still New York.” It features over 100 photos of Hicks’ observations of an eerily empty New York during the lockdown.

For an “Art Hiding in Paris” Easter Egg from Krasinski, you’ll find an illustration of Zimmer, Hicks and a beloved pet cat on page 230.

Zimmer always intended for Paris to follow “Art Hiding in New York,” and while she’ll take a break from the series to work next on a completely unrelated title, she does hope to return to “Art Hiding” in the future. Where to next?


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Find unique local artwork for the holiday season at December’s First Friday Peterborough –



This month’s First Friday Peterborough art crawl, taking place on December 2, provides a wealth of opportunities to find unique locally made artwork for everyone on your gift list this holiday season while also supporting local artists. art organizations, and locally owned small businesses.

The free, self-guided, family-friendly art crawl takes place at various galleries, businesses, venues, and artist studios, with most exhibits located in the downtown core — including several at the Commerce Building at 129 1/2 Hunter Street West — and running from 6 to 10 p.m.

December’s art crawl also includes a fine art and craft show just across the Hunter Street Bridge in East City. “8 at the Guild” takes place from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Peterborough Theatre Guild (364 Rogers St.) and features functional ceramics by Thomas Aitken and Kate Hyde, glass works by Christy Haldane, one-of-a-kind cards by painter Bea Quarrie, scratchboard originals by Lisa Martini-Dunk, glass works by Susan Rankin, original paintings and prints by David Smith, glass jewellery by Kira Robertson, and original paintings by Diana Collins Wilkes.

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Also new to First Friday Peterborough this December is an outdoor winter market running from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Commerce Building Square (29 1/2 Hunter St. W.). The market features poetry, live music, hot beverages and treats, and artworks and gifts. Vendors include Kit Coffee, Jeff Macklin of Jackson Creek Press, Third Circle Ceramics, Cheek, Juli Sage, Bethany Davis, Miguel Hernandez Autorino, and Marcia Watt.

Studio 5 at Heather Doughty Photography (129 1/2 Hunter St. W.) is hosting a pop-up art show from 6 to 9:30 p.m. featuring landscape and abstract art by Andrew Zahorouski and Donna Bolam, live storytelling by Hermione Rivison, and selected unframed prints from photographers showcased in past SPARK Photo Festival themed juried exhibits. The SPARK print sale accepts cash and onsite e-transfer only, with all proceeds supporting SPARK programming.

Along with the pop-up art show, you can also browse the current exhibit at Studio 5: a collection of fine art in oils, acrylics, watercolours, charcoal, pastels, and photography by
Arne Roosman, James Matheson, Hannah Spinney, Nancy Simmons Smith, Anita Murphy, Heather Doughty, Freddie Towe, Henry Gordon, Leilah Ward, and John Maris.

The work of 11 artists will be featured during a December 2022 First Friday Peterborough event at Riverside Tattoo in downtown Peterborough. (Poster/photo: Riverside Tattoo)
The work of 11 artists will be featured during a December 2022 First Friday Peterborough event at Riverside Tattoo in downtown Peterborough. (Poster/photo: Riverside Tattoo)

Artspace (3-378 Aylmer St. N.) is hosting its first annual holiday market from 6 to 9 p.m. on First Friday. Vendor artists and artisans include Linda Patterson of Arts of Delight (dolls), The Fanciful Hooker (textiles), DawnMoon Studio (earrings), Cedarlilie Beads (beadwork), Timothy Laurin (sculptural jewellery), Kathryn Durst (illustration), and Elizabeth Popham (acrylics and photographic decoupage). Other participating vendor artists and artisans include Rob Niezen, Haille Dockery, Summer Roads, Bethany LeBlonc, Kelly King Mosaics, Walnuts and Wonders, and Fairy Island Fibres.

As the holiday market is also a fundraiser for low-barrier arts programming in Artspace’s new Maker Space, entry is by donation ($3 recommended). Artspace will also be selling raffle tickets for a basket filled with local art and handcrafted goodies. If you can’t make it to First Friday, the market continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, which also will feature a free art-making workshop from 12 to 4 p.m. in the new Maker Space. Drop in and make an ornament with facilitators from Creating Space Peterborough.

Note that masks are mandatory for all vendors, volunteers, and patrons during the holiday market.

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The Art School of Peterborough (178A Charlotte St.) is also hosting a holiday art market from 6 to 9 p.m. on First Friday, featuring works by various local artists. If you can’t make it to First Friday, the market continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

If you’re interested in body art, you’ll want to drop by Riverside Tattoo & Skate Shop (127 Simcoe St.) on First Friday to check out the gallery of tattoo flash, paintings, prints, custom goods, and clothing featuring six artists from Riverside Tattoo (Stephen Shaw, Olivia Chessman, Cole Curtis, Kris Manbeck, Jesse Owen, and Emma Thompson), three artists Kent Street Tattoo in Lindsay (Corrie Worden, Danielle Poir, and Ainsley Worsley) and two artists from Take Care Tattoo in Port Perry (Jennifer Lawes and Jessica Channer).

Here are some of the other shows and exhibits taking place during First Friday Peterborough:

A "menu" of the collage, mixed media, and anime art items by Jade Wallace available at The Food Shop in downtown Peterborough during a December 2022 First Friday Peterborough event. (Graphic: Jade Wallace)
A “menu” of the collage, mixed media, and anime art items by Jade Wallace available at The Food Shop in downtown Peterborough during a December 2022 First Friday Peterborough event. (Graphic: Jade Wallace)
  • A framed arts show featuring a variety of local artists at Watson & Lou (383 Water St.)
  • “Winter Wonderland” by Kelly Albin at Blue Frogs Legs (393 Water St., 3rd Floor, Studio 7)
  • “Snow and Monsters” with augmented reality, animation, and interactive art by Kim Beavis Sanderson at Francey Studio (129 1/2 Hunter St. W., Studio 3)
  • Works by nature artist Jenn Baici at the Gallery in the Lounge in Revive Hair Lounge (73 Hunter St. E.)
  • Functional pottery including ceramic tableware and serving ware by Brenda Lee at East City Knife Co. (376 Water St.)
  • “Winter Wonderland” by Madi Day and Jessica KH at Turner & Pooch (142 Simcoe St.)
  • 4th Annual Winter’s Market featuring works by various Peterborough artists at Ludmila Gallery (129 1/2 Hunter St. W. 2nd Floor). The exhibit opens from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday Friday and continues on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. until December 23.
  • Collage, mixed media, and anime art by Jade Wallace at The Food Shop (372 Water St.)
  • A one-year anniversary group show by the Peterborough Arts Collective and “Psychedelic Holidaze,” a collection of projected festive visual art by digital artist Ashley Hall, at Jason Wilkins Factory (188 Hunter St. W. #7).
  • “Imagination & Art” by Lily Frampton at Tragically Dipped Donut (386 Water St.). This is Lily’s first art show, days before her 11th birthday.
  • Acrylic painter Kate “Gissy” Grightmire and cosmetic tattoo artist Emily Poisson at EJP Studio (395 Water St.).

For more information about First Friday Peterborough, visit

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How Viola Desmond's salon space has been reimagined through art –



Those walking along Gottingen Street in Halifax can now step into an art space created to honour civil rights activist Viola Desmond.

The Viola Desmond Experience was created by artist Marven Nelligan and was unveiled last week.

It is part of the Viola Desmond Legacy Art Project committee, created a few years ago to commemorate Desmond’s life before she became known for her activism.

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Desmond, a Black beautician and businesswoman, was arrested in 1946 while watching a movie in the whites-only section of the theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.

The display is right beside the Blue Collar Barbershop and The Braiding Lounge. (Anam Khan/CBC)
Visitors are welcome to sit on the salon chair. (Anam Khan/CBC)

The exhibit is located right between The Braiding Lounge and Blue Collar Barbershop. Onlookers are often seen stopping and taking photos.

The space has a large mirror on the wall facing the street. The floor has an adhesive covering that looks like wood.

The wall has a picture of Desmond looking on while women chat, get their hair washed, and read The Clarion, Nova Scotia’s first and only Black newspaper.

A dresser painted on the wall has a photo of Desmond and her sister, Wanda Robson, who championed her sister’s legacy.

There is a salon chair in the middle of the exhibit. Visitors are welcome to take a seat.

“A lot of people don’t really know the achievements of Viola Desmond and the things that she accomplished through her career long before she was a civil rights icon,” said Nelligan. 

Virtual experience in the works

He said the group is also working to add a virtual component to the exhibit. Participants will be able to scan a QR code and see a lookalike of Desmond behind them sharing her story.

“She was an entrepreneur, she was a businesswoman, she was a Black businesswoman, she made products, she was a manufacturer, she was an educator,” said Tara Taylor, who owns The Braiding Lounge and is on the art project committee.

“So, she not only learned her craft, she taught her craft to other Black women in the community. And that’s what we want people to remember her for.”

There is a photo of Wanda Robson, left, and Robson and Desmond in their younger years. (Paul Légère/CBC)
Tara Taylor owns The Braiding Lounge. (Paul Légère/CBC)

Taylor said she was proud to see the space open right beside her business. Desmond’s original salon was nearby.

“I’m extremely inspired by what she did in her community at the time,” said Taylor.

“Back then she was pretty much considered almost a millionaire. And so I just want to embody all of the things that she meant to her community.”

Taylor said the committee plans to share the virtual experience with New Glasgow.

Five hands raised in a fist in Being Black in Canada logo

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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