A look at one of the pieces in It’s About Time: Dancing Black in Canada 1900 – 1970 and Now, showing in the Mitchell Art Gallery until December 5. (Left: Photographs of Michèle Moss by Mike Tan, Right: Michèle Moss’ childhood dancing costume.)

Art exhibition looks at the lives and history of Black dancers and dance in Black communities in Canada

October 26, 2020 | Arts & Culture, Campus Life

MacEwan University welcomes It’s About Time: Dancing Black in Canada 1900 – 1970 and Now, the latest exhibition in the Mitchell Art Gallery.

The exhibition, curated by Dr. Seika Boye, looks at the largely undocumented dance history of Black Canadians before 1970, and features responses and reflections by contemporary performing and visual artists. It’s About Time also explores legislation of leisure culture, dance lessons and the role of social dances in the middle of the century.

"Whether or not you are a dance enthusiast, this exhibition provides a deeper look into how much Black artists have contributed to our cultural life in Canada, and contains valuable case studies for the ways that anti-Black racism impacts creative expression and cultural development in Canada," says Carolyn Jervis, director/curator of the Mitchell Art Gallery.

The exhibition grew out of Boye's doctoral research and was inspired by her early years. "I grew up dancing – I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t dancing," she says. "There was always music on during my very early childhood at home and my earliest performance was as a raindrop in a ballet recital at my local recreation centre in Hamilton, Ontario."

Boye studied jazz, tap, ballet and musical theatre before training in modern and post-modern dance. From 1996 to 2010, she worked and trained as a professional dance artist, and continues to work as a movement dramaturg in addition to her work in academia.

"The research expands through people now," she says. "In the early days it was a lot of time alone in an archive. Now it is through personal and community connection — in whatever form it has to take."

Though this is the fourth exhibition of It's About Time (which has never before been shown outside of Ontario), this will be its first time inviting artists to respond to the original archival exhibition.

"I am looking forward to connecting with people through their own connections to the exhibition," says Boye. "The conversations and relationships that I have developed with people have been invaluable — it is what led to the invitations I extended to the five contemporary performing, visual and literary artists included in the 'and Now' part of the show."

Over the semester, MAG will offer a number of online opportunities to engage with the exhibition and the ideas it explores, including virtual conversations with dancers, artists and scholars.

"We are very fortunate to get to exhibit these archival works for the first time outside of Toronto, and to exhibit new artworks and creative projects by Alberta dancers and artists made specifically for this exhibition," says Jervis.

Boye looks forward to seeing the connections being made between the guest artists (Cheryl Foggo, Michele Moss, Ashley Perez, Preston Pavlis and Braxton Garneau) and Edmonton's dance community.

"The invitations to individuals are really invitations to communities and to connections and shared histories," says Boye. "We know this in theory, of course, but we are really seeing it unfold and that is magical. It is testament to what dance does — it connects us in so many ways, and in this instance, it connects Black artists, citizens and community members."


MAG: Mitchell Art Gallery

MAG is a professional public art gallery dedicated to engaging timely conversations and community through contemporary art. 

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