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Towards and African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (2018)

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Towards and African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance, is the first book to consolidate the field of African Canadian Art History. Despite the centuries-long presence of Africans in Canada, black Canadian artistic and cultural production has been summarily neglected. Although Canadian participation in Transatlantic Slavery resulted in a repository of often stereotypical images of black subjects which parallels that of other western nations, Canada’s artistic investments in colonial ideals of blackness have yet to be fully examined or challenged.

Drawing from the established fields of African American Art History, Race and Representation, and The Visual Culture of Slavery, the contributors argue for an African Canadian Art History which can simultaneously examine the artistic contributions of black Canadian artists within their unique historical contexts, critique the colonial representation of black subjects by white artists, and contest the customary racial homogeneity of Canadian Art History.

The book examines art, artists, and visual and material culture from the eighteenth century to the present. Posing a conscious challenge to the boundaries of traditional art historical understandings of artistic value and worth, this ground-breaking book explores “high,” “low,” and popular art across various media including caricature, conceptual art, dolls, dress, advertisements, genre studies, landscapes, and portraiture. Towards and African Canadian Art History points us in a new direction, encouraging movement towards artistic, scholarly, and art historical futures which are more inclusive, while calling for the acknowledgement of black artists and subjects in their unique Canadian-ness as well as their shared African and Black Diasporic histories.

Towards an African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance, edited by Charmaine A. Nelson, is the first book to break new ground in the underdeveloped field of race and blackness in Canadian art history. Spanning histories from 1752 to 2012, this collection of essays addresses the African diaspora in Canada through topics ranging from cultural resistance, institutional critique, contemporary art, blackface minstrelsy and newspaper classifieds showing runaway slaves and slaves for sale”. Towards an African Canadian Art History asserts space for Black subjects and anti-racism research in Canadian art, culture and history. The book is a declaration of an emerging field, with ramifications for how we think about race and the institutional racism that persists. This collection confronts readers with a troubled cultural and social history that has yet to be acknowledged. Confronting and confessing this past reveals a fuller and more complex narrative beyond benevolent Canadian cultural myths, and such recognition is crucial for understanding or acting on uncomfortable issues of race and violence today.

– Chris J. Gismondi is a queer white qallunaaq Settler from Nanzuhzaugewazog, now living in Tiohtià :ke/Mooniyaang. They are a SSHRC-funded art historian and PhD candidate at McGill University.

Canadian Art Reviews

Cite this book: Charmaine A. Nelson, ed., Towards and African Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance (Concord, Ontario: Captus Press, October 2018)