He uses the art of stepping to shed light on the Black experience – CBC.ca
CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the 2023 Black Changemakers.
About 15 years ago, Kayin Queeley fell in love with the art of stepping. As the founder of the collective Montreal Steppers, he’s since taught it to thousands of students.
Ask him about the history of stepping, and Queeley’s eyes light up.
The art form, which revolves around the use of one’s body as a percussive instrument through footwork, hand clapping and spoken word, has deep roots in Black American culture.
Everything the collective does — from workshops in schools, CEGEPs and universities to live performances that also include singing and spoken-word poetry — makes the link between that history and the present-day Black experience.
It’s a critical part of the collective’s message: “We are going to help you engage in this art form, but you will not leave and you won’t engage without knowing where this came from,” explains Queeley.
“We cannot continue to share elements of our history and our art forms without the context.”
Bodies replaced banned drums
In 1739, there was an unsuccessful slave uprising in South Carolina, known as the Stono Rebellion.
Enslaved Africans were armed with weapons and used the beat of drums to signal each other.
Once the rebellion was quashed, South Carolina passed strict laws to better control the enslaved population, including banning the use of drums.
“It was now the inception of using your body to replicate the sound of the drum, which was now missing,” Queeley said.
Falling in love with stepping
Queeley, who was born and raised in the small dual-island Caribbean nation of Saint Kitts and Nevin, left home to study at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh.
That’s where he saw his first live stepping routine, at a gospel concert in 2008.
“There’s something about that rawness of you creating the music with your body,” said Queeley. “… a group of people collectively doing this simultaneously, doing all of it together, synchronized, but at the same time doing different steps, as well, that all build and connect with each other.”
He soon joined a local step team, eventually going on to lead it.
Plattsburgh, where Queeley found stepping, is also where he met his wife, Liza Selvarajah, a fellow student and a Montrealer who eventually persuaded him to move to Quebec.
“I didn’t expect my life to end up in Montreal, I can tell you that, my friend,” he said.
“I’m an island boy through and through.”
More than just dance
Shortly after arriving in Montreal, Queeley began volunteering in schools, teaching students about stepping.
He was also part of a group that performed at McGill University in 2016, blending gospel songs with a step routine, followed by a brief presentation outlining the history of the dance style.
That presentation resonated with the audience and got Queeley thinking about starting a group whose mission would be to introduce people to the history of stepping, through the art form.
“I don’t want this just to be [about] performance. There’s an element missing when we only do performance,” he said.
“I want you to walk away realizing that there’s potential in yourself to use your body to explore this art form but I want you to walk away knowing this history.”
Montreal Steppers was officially born in 2019. Since then, Queeley says the Montreal Steppers have given 400 workshops, reaching about 11,000 students.
The group has about 20 members, including Winnie Daniel, who’s been involved from the beginning.
Daniel credits Queeley’s leadership and work ethic for the group growing its reach even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on.
“He is a very humble leader. He knows how to generously put everybody where they will shine,” said Winnie Daniel.
Creating a dialogue
“If this was 150 years ago, why wouldn’t I be allowed in your school?” Queeley asks students at the beginning of every workshop.
Some of them pause, he says.
“Why, Mr. Kayin?” they ask. “I don’t know.”
“Because I am a Black man,” he tells them. “Back then there was segregation. We weren’t allowed in certain spaces. So, now I’m allowed in this space. What are we going to do today? How are we going to learn?”
Even if the history of stepping is tied to African slavery, Kayin and his fellow steppers want the dialogue to go beyond that.
“It changed a lot how I see myself as a Black woman, just by connecting with my history,” said Daniel. “Not through pain, but being inspired through art.”
Queeley says he’s hopeful that his work contributes in some way to making the world an easier place to navigate for his four-year-old daughter.
“We do all of that because we are recognizing what the past has led us to. And we are looking to make proactive decisions about our present that will shift and shape our future,” he said.
“We all do what we can, and collectively we will make a huge difference.”
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
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.
Inspired by a Lifetime exhibition showcases art by nonagenarians – CollingwoodToday.ca
A local artist is capturing the beauty in sunset years by teaching seniors how to paint. Their work has made the walls of a local gallery.
“I thought I’d be dead before I got famous. Thank God that’s not the case,” jokes 92-year-old Keith Sumner, one of the many seniors whose original art is displayed at the exhibit titled Inspired by a Lifetime at Stonebridge Art Gallery.
A resident of Leacock Retirement Lodge in Orillia, he is one of the students taking lessons with Lisa Harpell, an Elmvale-based artist who has been teaching art classes to seniors in retirement homes in the region.
The work of about 40 senior artists ranging in age from 81 to 101 years old from seven retirement communities is on display at the Wasaga Beach gallery until March 27. The show includes work done by residents from Waterside Retirement Lodge (Wasaga Beach), Chartwell Whispering Pines (Barrie), Aspira Waterford Retirement Residents (Barrie), Allandale Station (Barrie), Lavita Barrington Retirement Lodge (Barrie), Bayfield House (Penetanguishene), and Leacock Retirement Lodge (Orillia).
The exhibition also includes Harpell’s paintings and sculptures.
True to its title, each painting displayed for Inspired by a Lifetime has an impactful story to tell.
Verna Stovold, who lives with macular degeneration, is one of the many seniors attending the classes.
“Verna paints beautifully because her body remembers how to paint background, middle ground and foreground,” said her teacher, Harpell. “She tells us the paint that she wants and she dabs her brush and goes right ahead and paints. She asks me all the time if it’s okay if she comes to class … I say, ‘Verna, you’re the one that’s inspiring everyone else.’ Because I am holding up [her] paintings and everybody goes ‘wow.’”
Stovold has two large paintings and ten studies included in the exhibition.
The process of training seniors to paint has been extremely gratifying for Harpell.
“It is deeply satisfying to the soul. It brings me to tears all the time,” she said. “Because I know that what they created is worth showing. And it needs to be brought to the community not only for their sake, but for the community to realize that anyone can do this. Creativity is something that gives us hope. And that is something that is necessary in this world right now.”
In her early days, Georgian College, Barrie, grad worked with the late Canadian artist, William Ronald.
“He really did bring out the kid in me. He was such a kid himself. And that [thought] is what I really try to pass on, not only his legacy. I also find that the child in every one of my students wants to just play with paint and get their hands dirty. And have some fun and laughs,” says the mother of four.
Alysanne Dever, lifestyle and programs manager at Chartwell Whispering Pines Retirement Residence, said the exhibition and art classes have brought a wave of positivity for the artists, their family, and their caretakers.
“This is the first time that I have ever seen or heard of an art gallery showing for seniors with no prior experience,” says Dever, noting the opening day reception crowd packed the gallery. “Really, that’s what it’s all about! The residents were so proud that people were complimenting and wanting to learn about what inspired them to paint specific photos. One of our residents actually sold an art piece as well and she was so thrilled!”
Dever is a strong proponent of the benefits of art therapy, and says it provides residents with a creative outlet to express what might otherwise stay bottled up.
“This allows them to escape from reality, even for a little bit as they immerse themselves in their art piece in that moment,” says Dever. “Art therapy encourages seniors to use their creativity and gives them a sense of control and independence, which are essential qualities as you age.”
Not every brush stroke is smooth, and not every day was wrinkle-free for Harpell while she taught lessons in retirement homes. From outbreaks and whiteouts to loss of confidence, the behind-the-scenes training and coordination to make the exhibit happen meant clearing several hurdles.
And yet, Harpell says, it is during the most trying circumstances that intuitive art therapy has a larger role to play, especially among the community’s vulnerable ones. Art has played such a role in Sumner’s life, after he picked up the brush in his 90s.
“Painting puts you in a different mindset. Takes you away from everyday things,” says Sumner. “My perception of things has changed. The sky is different every day… and it intrigues me. I am observing things more critically, in more detail…and painting has encouraged that.”
The exhibit is supported by the Wasaga Society for the Arts, in part because it helps accomplish the society’s mandate of making art accessible.
The society’s interim president, Steve Wallace, said the group aims to introduce the community to all kinds of art, and to promote diversity and inclusion for artists and patrons.
The Inspired by a Lifetime exhibition runs at the Stonebridge Art Gallery until March 27 on Thursdays and Saturdays and on Monday, March 27 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
President Biden to Award National Medals of Arts – National Endowment for the Arts
Washington, DC—President Joseph R. Biden will present the 2021 National Medals of Arts in conjunction with the National Humanities Medals on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at 4:30 p.m. ET in an East Room ceremony at the White House. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend. The event will be live streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD, said, “The National Medal of Arts recipients have helped to define and enrich our nation’s cultural legacy through their life long passionate commitment. We are a better nation because of their contributions. Their work helps us see the world in different ways. It inspires us to reach our full potential and recognize our common humanity. I join the President in congratulating and thanking them.”
Below is the list of 2021 recipients:
Judith Francisca Baca: Judith Francisca Baca’s collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory—pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.
Fred Eychaner: From dance and architecture to arts education and a lifetime of LGBTQI+ advocacy, Fred Eychaner has helped give millions of people strength to be themselves and moved our country forward.
Jose Feliciano*: Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, Jose Feliciano has opened hearts and built bridges—overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.
Mindy Kaling: Imbued with humor and heart, Mindy Kaling’s work across television, film, and books inspires and delights—capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our Nation.
Gladys Knight: Gladys Knight’s exceptional talent influenced musical genres—from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop—and inspired generations of artists, captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: As one of the most decorated comedic actors of our time, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has blazed a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.
Antonio Martorell-Cardona: Transcending generation and genre, Antonio Martorell-Cardona’s art exposes hard truths with whimsy and color, to help us remember and grow, as people and as a Nation.
Joan Shigekawa: Throughout her career, Joan Shigekawa has championed artists, created global exchanges, and promoted the power of the arts to heal, build strong economies, and help people and Nations reach their full potential.
Bruce Springsteen: One of our greatest performers and storytellers, Bruce Springsteen’s music celebrates our triumphs, heals our wounds, and gives us hope, capturing the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American.
Vera Wang: From the runway to red carpets to retail stores, Vera Wang’s modern designs and bridal collections express individualism and elegance, making beauty and style accessible to all.
The Billie Holiday Theatre: Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our Nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance: Through teaching, training, and performance, The International Association of Blacks in Dance promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations, and enriches the dance culture of America.
* Will not be in attendance at the ceremony.
The 2021 National Humanities Medals will be presented at the same ceremony
Join the conversation on Twitter at #ArtsHumanitiesMedal.
About the National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the federal government. It is awarded by the president of the United States to individuals or groups who are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States. Please see additional information and the list of past recipients on the NEA website.
The National Endowment for the Arts manages the nomination process on behalf of the White House. Each year, the Arts Endowment seeks nominations from individuals and organizations across the country. The National Council on the Arts, the NEA’s presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed advisory body, reviews the nominations and provides recommendations to the President, who selects the recipients.
An Artist Reckons With the 'Fat' Body – Vulture
“As a fat woman,” Shona McAndrew explains in the catalogue for her new show, “I came to believe that I didn’t deserve intimacy, shouldn’t express happiness in the presence of others, and certainly shouldn’t be proudly showing my large naked body to anyone.” With her exhibition at Chart Gallery — featuring ten paintings, mostly nudes of herself and her lover — all that has changed. There is also one magnificent, oversize papier-mâché sculpture of McAndrew lolling in a bubble bath. Here is a ferocious artist slaying both her internal demons and cultural taboos.
McAndrew, who has described herself as “the only chubby child in France” (she grew up in Paris), was a breakout star at the 2019 Spring/Break art show. Her installation was a room-filling papier-mâché sculpture of her and her boyfriend sprawled on a bed in their messy Brooklyn bedroom. Afterward McAndrew, now 32, went a different direction, showing a series of well-done but removed images of women and friends. She’s a precisionist with a Post-Impressionistic touch for part-by-part painting, but the work was more devotional than “grab you by the lapels.” Something was missing.
Turns out, it was her. McAndrew is now the subject. She paints her naked body, either alone or being touched by others, taking pleasure in it as something that might be desired and seen without humiliation. Her work has become more open, honest, and vulnerable, without falling back on the rawness that characterized her work at Spring/Break. The paintings are rendered in a pink scale so that everything appears to come through a filter of mossy mist, lending them a formal stillness and a new sense of confidence. I can imagine this work sending profound messages to large audiences.
In Too Deep depicts McAndrew guiding the finger of her lover into her belly button as she fondles one of her breasts. Flesh abounds, falls, forms a landscape. She peers down the visage of her own body while withdrawing into her psyche. The penetration echoes Jesus guiding the finger of Thomas into his open wound.
Hold You Tight features a seated McAndrew as she embraces Stuart, her partner, who is standing. Her eyes are closed; she seems to be partaking of a world of sensual and spiritual sustenance — like she’s savoring the first taste of something she’s denied herself until now. The pose recalls Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina, with McAndrew as Hades, but rather than abducting the unwilling Proserpina into the underworld, she’s summoning something from within her. Stuart’s surrender is sweet.
Art: Copyright Shona McAndrew. Courtesy the Artist and CHART. Photo by Neighboring States.
Movie Night shows McAndrew cradling Stuart’s head in her lap. As he looks away, maybe at a screen, she’s looking down at him, at peace and ease, lost in the moment. The cards are stacked against women artists exploring this kind of secret life. The search for domestic bliss, the overcoming of body issues and self-doubt, are common topics in other fields and in the popular press but feature rarely in the realms of high art. Such themes are dismissed as the stuff of romance novels and soft-core illustration. As bell hooks wrote, “Male fantasy is seen as something that can create reality, whereas female fantasy is regarded as pure escape… A woman who talks of love is still suspect.”
McAndrew says she didn’t look at herself in a mirror for ten years. “Growing up in a fat body, I always felt that the rules of femininity didn’t apply to me,” she told me. Now, she’s rendering “body parts that made me uncomfortable” and has learned “to lovingly paint my double chin” and “to appreciate the formalism in the folds of my fat.” Now she wants “to put my secrets into the painting” — secrets that she shares with so many others. “I don’t want it to just be for me and about me,” she told the Art Career podcast in late 2022. “I want it to be for anyone with a body.”
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