Shaya Ishaq’s work moves fluidly between mediums—words, ceramics, fibres, jewellery—while maintaining a central locus of honouring Black lineages and sparking light toward liberated Black futures. Tenacious and ever-evolving, Ishaq walked away from journalism school and signed up for a hand-building course at a pottery studio in her hometown of Ottawa. “I really fell in love that winter,” she says. “It was pretty magical to come into the studio first thing in the morning to see my work come out of the kiln or even just how the clay would change when the pieces would air dry before firing. I was totally enraptured by the many stages of the medium of clay.”
Now, Ishaq masterfully combines ceramics and fibres to create ornate and intricate wearable art pieces. On the origin stories of these designs, she says, “At their core, [these materials] come from the earth (before mass production and industrialization, before creating synthetic versions) and I am very dedicated to working with them to see what connections arise. Both invite a meditative process that has saved me time and again.” She started bridging relationships between ceramics and textiles when she began art school in Halifax, going on to continue her studies in Montreal. “It’s only been in recent years that some kind of visual vocabulary has emerged.”
Ishaq’s wearable art possesses a distinct aesthetic that plays with the juxtaposition of hardness and softness, gloss and matte, the whimsy of tassels and sharp curves of ceramic. That aesthetic is visible in her Holy Wata collection, showcased on her online portfolio, and her most recent solo show Mirror Mirror, exhibited at the Anne Dahl Concept Studio in Ottawa.
“Some of my stylistic choices are definitely informed by Black and Afro-diasporic futurist and Indigenous aesthetics,” she says. “More and more, I am trying to find inspiration from my own cultural background in East Africa … which requires a lot of digging, but is ultimately worth it because it brings me closer to myself in a way, by allowing me to reconnect with an em bodied sense of self.” Ishaq is also inspired by people who express a certain kind of “unfuckwithable energy,” including characters like Lauren Olamina from Octavia E. Butler’sParable series or Ketara from Avatar, and performers like
Moor Mother, Debby Friday, Backxwash, and Kelsey Lu.
Themes of Blackness in regards to identity, craft, culture, and liberation are integrally woven into Ishaq’s spatial design, as well. During a month-long residency at Halifax’s Khyber Centre for the Arts, she created Black Libraries Matter, for which she reimagined the gallery space by creating a Black library by inviting community members to donate books by Black authors.
Soon after, she had a collaborative exhibit, Reconcile/Overcome, at the Ottawa Art Gallery. It consisted of a handwoven sculptural textile piece and written work reflecting on the consequences of the transatlantic slave trade and labour of enslaved Black people on the foundation of Canada and the United States. Her written work from the exhibit includes this excerpt: “Made by my Black hands in celebration of Black spiritual resilience in all corners of the world. Not all our struggles are alike yet we are gold. We are nuanced and yet are gold. We are resilient and we are gold.”
In reflecting on the intersections of Blackness, fashion, beauty, and culture, Ishaq understands that Blackness and popular material culture are also deeply entwined. “I believe this includes Afro-diasporic cultural production as well. I really believe that materiality is political and omnipresent.” Black culture, she says, “is celebrated yet the people who create it are oftentimes disregarded, treated as disposable, only celebrated when they are dead or in moments like this where the world has to recognize the deep systemic patterns at play. There are so many case studies of appropriation that intersect Blackness, fashion, and beauty.”
In its variety of mediums, Ishaq’s practice seeks to centre Blackness and move closer toward creative sovereignty, despite continued appropriation of Black art and culture. “Ultimately, the more we are able to lean into our own creative sovereignty, the more authentic our creations can be. That sovereignty can look like not fighting for ‘a seat at the table,’ detaching ourselves from Eurocentric symbols of success but really doing things for us and by us.”
Painting bought directly from Emily Carr donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – Times Colonist
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has acquired two Emily Carr paintings from brothers whose grandmother purchased one from Carr herself, after the two bonded over a shared love of dogs.
The donation comes from Ian and Andrew Burchett, whose parents, Peter and Damaris Burchett, were long-time supporters of the gallery.
The donated collection — which also contains two sketches from Group of Seven member Lawren S. Harris — includes an untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point purchased directly from Carr by Peter Burchett’s mother, Bets Burchett.
Ian Burchett, who now lives in Ottawa, said his grandmother loved to tell him and his brother about how Carr invited her over for a series of visits spanning several weeks to look at her paintings and choose her favourite.
“My grandmother always said to us that she knew right away which painting that she wanted, but she agreed to keep going back and to Emily’s home to chat with her, and then finally she bought the painting that hung over our family fireplace,” he said.
Bets Burchett gave the piece to her son and daughter-in-law as a wedding gift, and the painting hung above the fireplace in the North Saanich home they built and where they raised their sons.
Their parents had always said they hoped the art would be passed on to the gallery for others to enjoy, Ian Burchett said. After his mother died in 2019, following his father’s death a few years earlier, the brothers decided to fulfil their parents’ wish.
The other donated Carr piece, Angidah Naas River, evokes happy memories for the brothers. In 1971, their parents took them on a camping trip around B.C. to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the province joining Confederation. They went to northern B.C., to an area depicted in the painting of totem poles.
“We were able to actually find what we thought were the poles,” Burchett said. “Later on, when we looked at that painting, we always remembered that wonderful family camping trip.”
Burchett said he and his brother were happy to continue their parents’ relationship with the gallery, and it’s special to see the works he grew up with hanging there. On a recent visit to Victoria, the gallery was one of the first stops he made, to see the paintings on display.
The donated works also include several Chinese jade pieces, two concrete panels by Herbert Siebner and family portraits that date to the mid-1600s.
Gallery director Jon Tupper said it’s the first time the gallery has received a donation of Carr’s work during the 12 years he has been there. The last time the gallery purchased a piece to add to its Carr collection, which has about 45 works, was about a decade ago, when prices were much lower than they are now, Tupper said.
Paintings by Carr sell for $150,000 to $275,000, depending on their condition, subject and when they were painted, he said.
“I’m so excited about this — whenever you see major works of art come into the collection, especially ones that are really beyond our means.”
'Marking Time' And Making Art: MoMa PS1 Explores Creation And Incarceration – NPR
Every second spent in prison is a “measurement of punishment,” says Nicole R. Fleetwood. “You wake up, you’re being punished, you’re being punished, you make art, you’re being punished.”
Fleetwood is curator of “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a new exhibition at New York City’s MoMa PS1.
The exhibition collects work made by artists who are either currently in prison, were formerly in prison, or had family members in prison. Considering the U.S. currently locks up more than 2 million people, that’s a substantial pool.
Fleetwood grew up in a small town in southwest Ohio, and saw up-close how our system of punishment “stigmatizes, isolates, and humiliates certain people.” She witnessed friends, neighbors and family members swept up by the system of mass incarceration.
She’d do her best to stay in touch — writing letters to her incarcerated cousins, visiting when she could, trading pictures and greeting cards back and forth. But she kept this memorabilia tucked away in drawers or cabinets, until she realized she was also taking part in the shame and stigma of prison. So she started hanging them around her home, as a way of actively bringing her cousins into her day-to-day life, “refusing to have them invisible behind prison walls,” she said.
The practice led her to start researching art in prison, resulting in this exhibition, which includes paintings, photography, sculptures and more.
Tameca Cole’s Locked in a Dark Calm opens the exhibition. It’s a collage on graphite, small enough that you might miss it if you’re not paying attention. Cole was in prison when she made it, close to the end of her sentence. Then a correctional officer said something that set her off. She didn’t specify what was said, but it was something that made her feel degraded and angry — angry enough to talk back, or as she put it, “mess up everything I had worked hard for.”
Instead, she funneled her feelings into this piece of art. “It just came out,” she said. “I just saw myself outside myself.”
For Fleetwood, the piece speaks to “wanting to be recognized as a person of value and not just someone being punished by the state as a bad person.”
Throughout the exhibit, Fleetwood mostly avoids bringing up the reasons for an artist’s incarceration. She said it was a way to get out of the rigid frameworks we often use to talk about prison — innocent versus guilty, good people versus bad people, those deserving and undeserving of freedom. Instead she wanted the exhibition to be a more holistic reflection of American society and its relationship to incarceration.
Locked in a Dark Calm has brought Cole more attention that she’d ever thought she would get. Out of prison now, she gets calls from gallerists and reporters like me. It’s all a bit overwhelming, actually — juggling her burgeoning art career while holding down a job, and adjusting to life outside of prison. Still, she makes time for her art, and appreciates how much it resonates with people.
“I like my art to speak to people, to inspire people,” she says. “But I definitely don’t want to be famous.”
If time is the measurement of punishment in prison, you can see it most clearly enumerated in Mark Loughney’s Pyrrhic Defeat. Loughney is a portrait artist currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The piece collects more than 600 pencil-drawn portraits he’s done throughout his years in prison. At MoMa PS1, they occupy all four walls of one room. Turning around in the room, you can see Loughney get better, more adventurous with his detailing.
Loughney says the hardest part of doing these portraits is simply finding the time and space to do it. Prison is loud and chaotic, and it’s hard for him and his sitters to stay focused. So he tries to get them done as quickly as possible, and he’s had a small advantage on that front recently: “The masks actually make it a lot easier because I don’t have to focus so much detail on a nose or mouth,” he says.
His subjects are in a ¾ view, looking just askew. At first he did this because it was uncomfortable looking in another man’s eyes for an extended period of time. “Everybody is trying to puff up their chests in here,” he says. “And it’s hard to really let your guard down.” But it has an added effect of making his subjects look like they’re in a Renaissance-era painting. Loughney says it gives his subjects a sense of dignity and hope.
“Portraiture is a type of prison currency,” writes Fleetwood in the book that accompanies the exhibition. Many of the portrait artists she’s spoken to told her that the skill was key to their survival in prison. Artists are commissioned to draw portraits of lovers or children or music/sports stars in exchange for commissary items and other necessities. For Loughney, part of the pitch he makes to get his subjects to pose for him is that they can keep the originals, and send copies home to their families.
Pictures being sent home are a core facet of prison art. In the accompanying book, Fleetwood includes pictures she took with her cousins in visiting room photo sessions — smiling and posing against painted backdrops. Fleetwood estimates that there are millions of these types of photos circulating between incarcerated people and their families and friends.
Larry Cook’s piece The Visiting Room is a play on this type of photography. Inspired by his uncles who were incarcerated, Cook stages his subjects inside recreation prison visiting rooms. But instead of facing the camera, they’re turned, looking towards painted backdrops of cityscapes, skies, and fancy cars. Counterbalancing Loughney’s hurried sketches, Cook’s photographs are more contemplative. “Having that faceless element allows us to resonate personally in any way that we can in terms of entering into the photograph,” says Cook.
Cook’s background is in club photography which, similarly, uses painted backdrops to evoke an air of fantasy and escapism. But in the context of prison, it offers a decision to break from the aesthetic coldness of a visiting room. Everything in Cook’s photographs — from the shoes to the poses to the backgrounds — are small acts of agency.
So much of prison art is about connecting people who are kept far away, both physically and emotionally. In our interview, Fleetwood brought up the writer Etheridge Knight who was known for the poems he wrote in prison. In his poem “The Idea of Ancestry,” he sits in his cell, looking at 47 pictures of family taped on to his wall and writes, “I am all of them, they are all of me.”
“Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” is on view at New York City’s MoMa PS1 until April 4, 2021.
ART SEEN: Rare works by Charles Edenshaw head to market at Art Toronto – Vancouver Sun
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Of the 15 to 16 pieces available for sale during that time, he’s been able to acquire all but a couple of them.
He said while there’s an “enormous level of curiosity” in Edenshaw’s work, the market “is in its infancy in a sense.
“I guess I have to say Art Toronto is a way to test the waters,” he said.
“In all likelihood, I might end up donating five or six works to the National Gallery or to (Vancouver Art Gallery) subject to what happens with the building.”
DEG is showing 19th century ledger drawings which were made by largely anonymous Indigenous artists from the Great Plains nations such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota.
In many of them, horses figure prominently. When the animal was introduced by the Spanish to the Comanche in the 17th century, Ellis said, it led to major changes among all the aboriginal people in what later became the U.S..
Ellis said ledger drawings are “one of the most important aspects of North American art history and most people don’t even know they exist.”
They’re called ledger drawings because accounting ledger books were a major source of paper for Indigenous people.
“The drawings are both records of actual events and articulate the cumulative acquisition of spiritual power and status,” the Donald Ellis Gallery said in a news release.
Donald Ellis Gallery will donate 10 per cent of all sales to Canadian organizations addressing the legacy of residential schools, supporting Indigenous education and mental health, and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The gallery said clients can choose to support one of the following charitable organizations:
Art Toronto is from Wednesday, Oct.28 to Sunday, Nov. 8.
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