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HOW & WHY
Two more Black Canadian artists celebrated in updated Senate exhibit
December 7, 2021

The Senate is paying tribute to two more exceptional Black artists with an exhibit of their work in the Senate of Canada Building. It’s the second edition of the Senate’s series honouring the talent and contributions of Black Canadian artists.

Light Laureate (2019-2020), a mixed-media piece by image maker Tim Whiten, and Wyoming Saddle (2000), an acrylic-on-paper by the late Trinidadian-Canadian painter Denyse Thomasos, will be on display in the Senate foyer until July 2022.

“The artists both dig deep into their roots, dig deep into the psyche of their communities and reach out across Canadian society to ensure that their histories and the world that defines us is understood,” said Senator Patricia Bovey, an art historian, museologist and former gallery director.

Senator Bovey chairs the Senate’s Artwork and Heritage Advisory Working Group, which includes Senator Vernon White. The late senator Josée Forest-Niesing had also been a member of the group, which launched the Honouring Canada’s Black Artists series in 2020 as part of a wider initiative to highlight voices from diverse communities in the works on display at the Senate.

The first installation in the series showcased works by two artists based in Western Canada: mixed-media artist and poet Chantal Gibson of Vancouver and Nigerian-born painter Yisa Akinbolaji of Winnipeg.

For this edition of the exhibit, Senator Bovey sought recommendations from Black curators about Ontario artists. Toronto’s Olga Korper Gallery loaned the pieces by Mr. Whiten and Ms. Thomasos to the Senate.

‘Many fragments of ideas’

In Light Laureate, Mr. Whiten combines a delicate mix of materials: sandblasted glass, a mirror, maple wood, oak wood and fragments of burnt paper.

“I do not refer to myself as an artist; I think of myself as an image maker who also creates cultural objects,” Mr. Whiten said in a written statement.

“In close to 40 years creating works, I have sought to navigate the territory of the human condition and its transformative potential. During that time, I have pursued expressions of being in the world as a series of passages, perceiving mortality itself as threshold, giving form to transcendent moments by tracing the contours of the ineffable. The materials I use are most often presented in reductive and compressed objects, with the intent of inviting experience and encouraging ‘sensing’ over ‘reading.’

“Mirroring / reflection… a key element in the making of a ‘human being.’”

For Senator Bovey, the piece ties into her work as a legislator.

“The paper fragments, for me, for presentation in the Senate are really interesting because as we work with legislation, we’re working with ideas from many fragments of Canadian society and many fragments of ideas,” Senator Bovey said.

“I love the fact that this one is called Light Laureate,” she added. “For the fourth time now, I will be bringing forward legislation for a Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate. I think the concept of laureate, which gives due credence to ideas and people who are deserving of that light, is really appropriate.”


Senator Patricia Bovey admires Wyoming Saddle (2000) by Denyse Thomasos, left, and Light Laureate (2019-2020) by Tim Whiten, which she arranged to have exhibited in the foyer of the Senate of Canada Building.

Senator Patricia Bovey admires Wyoming Saddle (2000) by Denyse Thomasos, left, and Light Laureate (2019-2020) by Tim Whiten, which she arranged to have exhibited in the foyer of the Senate of Canada Building.

Canadian image maker Tim Whiten created Light Laureate with a mix of materials, including sandblasted glass, a mirror and fragments of burnt paper. (Photo credit: Margherita Matera)Canadian image maker Tim Whiten created Light Laureate with a mix of materials, including sandblasted glass, a mirror and fragments of burnt paper. (Photo credit: Margherita Matera)

Senate Curator Tamara Dolan, left, and Senator Bovey, right, inspect the crate containing Light Laureate prior to the installation of this mixed-media piece in the Senate foyer.Senate Curator Tamara Dolan, left, and Senator Bovey, right, inspect the crate containing Light Laureate prior to the installation of this mixed-media piece in the Senate foyer.

Ms. Dolan helps place Light Laureate on the wall beside Ms. Thomasos’ painting.Ms. Dolan helps place Light Laureate on the wall beside Ms. Thomasos’ painting.

‘A very dynamic soul’

Wyoming Saddle is one in a series of eight works stemming from the time Ms. Thomasos spent at an artist residency in Wyoming. Her extensive international travels, heritage and research into the effects of oppressive systems on the Black diaspora are all major elements in her work.

The Trinidad-born Canadian painter often used an abstract ribcage motif to evoke the themes of slavery and confinement; this motif is visible in Wyoming Saddle with her use of thick, black lines amid the other colourful brushstrokes.

“I think Wyoming Saddle is a beautiful example of the essence and the soul of Denyse,” said Shelli Cassidy-McIntosh, director at the Olga Korper Gallery, which remains Ms. Thomasos’ primary dealer.

“Her brushwork is amazing. It’s forceful, it’s energetic … it gives that sense of human vibrancy,” Senator Bovey said. “She was a very dynamic soul and her paintings evoke that.”

Raised in Toronto and later based in New York, Ms. Thomasos died suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. With the 10-year anniversary of her passing approaching, Ms. Cassidy-McIntosh said the Olga Korper Gallery is “thrilled” the artist’s legacy will be celebrated in 2022 through the display at the Senate, as well as through major exhibits and retrospectives at public galleries and museums across the country.

“It is her time. Her voice as a Black woman coming forward is essential,” Ms. Cassidy-McIntosh said.

“I hope it sparks an interest into a greater discovery of this remarkable Canadian talent.”

Presenting Canadian viewpoints

The installation of Light Laureate and Wyoming Saddle follows the launch of two other art programs in 2021 that seek to promote diverse voices in Canada’s arts community at the Senate and further engage Canadians with the Upper Chamber’s art and heritage collection.

Trinidadian-Canadian painter Denyse Thomasos stands in front of her work Metropolis (2007). Ms. Thomasos passed away suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. (Photo credit: The Estate of Denyse Thomasos and Olga Korper Gallery)Trinidadian-Canadian painter Denyse Thomasos stands in front of her work Metropolis (2007). Ms. Thomasos passed away suddenly in 2012, at the age of 47. (Photo credit: The Estate of Denyse Thomasos and Olga Korper Gallery)

The virtual art exhibit Cultivating Perspectives promotes interpretations of Senate works by curators from across the country, while the Museums at the Senate project saw the recent installation of eight prints by Inuit artists in a committee room in the Senate of Canada Building.

Senator Bovey noted how these projects link to issues raised in Senate committee studies, including a 2019 report from the Special Senate Committee on the Arctic and a report on cultural diplomacy from the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

“We are presenting threads of Canadian viewpoints, histories, dreams, problems,” Senator Bovey said. “And we’re presenting those visual languages with meaning.”

The exhibition of the two works marks the second installation in the Senate’s series honouring Canada’s Black artists. The works will remain on display in the Senate foyer until July 2022.The exhibition of the two works marks the second installation in the Senate’s series honouring Canada’s Black artists. The works will remain on display in the Senate foyer until July 2022.

  

Click here to read about the first exhibit in the Honouring Canada’s Black Artists series.