Latitude 53’s latest exhibit confronts societal issues
Skin Glowing in the Moonlight will feature the work of two Toronto-based black Canadian artists at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 gallery for 44 days, starting next week.
Danièle Dennis uses videography to challenge the status quo of black identity, while her friend and former art school junior, Shantel Miller, takes a similar approach by focussing on black men in oil paintings.
“We’re really, really excited to be featuring our work in Edmonton,” Dennis says. “We really look forward to people coming out to the show, talking to us, engaging with us, and asking questions.”
Both women use lived experiences to inform their artwork because the problems they see in society’s perception of black identity are both far flung, and close to home.
Miller’s exhibition of eight oil paintings from her “Side Profile” series will be the first national showing of her work. It features men from her life— her brothers and close family friends —and depicts them while referencing the framing of a mugshot.
“I’m using it as a tool to explore how black bodies are looked at,” Miller says. “I really wanted the viewer or whoever’s experiencing the work to think about what kind of connotations come to mind when you view a black figure in this very specific way that is side profile.”
The hyper realistic paintings use each subjects’ averted gaze as well as the stark shadow they cast on a yellow background, to “trap” the viewer into thinking about the men.
“Because they’re so representational, you kind of get caught up in the technique,” she says. “Then, after that fact has subsided, you’re spending time thinking about the people that you’re actually looking at.”
Miller says she uses her “privilege to democratize image making,” beginning with her choice of medium. By using oil paint, she aims to subvert the tradition of portraiture subjects that appear in history.
“As a black woman, I feel really empowered, because I know there’s so much work to do in terms of unpacking the different types of representations of blackness,” she says.
In “Colour Me Bad,” one of Dennis’ video works that will be at the Skin Glowing in the Moonlight exhibit, she uses everyday items like dirt and spices to apply coats of blackness to her skin, leaving residual markings as the layers stack.
The metaphoric meaning varies with each layer, and with it, Dennis says her work interrogates our understanding of black identity.
“I definitely still think that our society has a really long way to go in terms of trying to unpack and understand issues that pertain to race,” she says. “Our society has a long way to go in terms of arriving at a better understanding of that as a whole so that they can then try to help make efforts to dismantle a lot of the systemic ways that anti-blackness kind of rears its head.”
Some of Dennis’ work was previously shown at The New Gallery in Calgary last year, but she’s looking forward to bringing the discussion back to Alberta again.
“I recognize that maybe some of these conversations might not be easy for all to necessarily enter into right away, but I think it’s really just important to recognize the diversity of our Canadian population—recognizing the black presence that is here,” she explains.
Dennis says she also uses her art to question the binary frame society often imposes on black identity.
“I don’t necessarily presume that I have any answers to the questions that I’m posing,” she says.
However, she says the discussion that can be born from her and Miller’s work is a great first step towards finding solutions.
“I’m excited that we get to share a platform together, and I’m excited for this dialogue that can be produced as a result of our work occupying the same space,” Dennis says.