Introduction by Yaniya Lee

Commissioned by The Ethnic Aisle

Curated by Liz Ikiriko

Light Grows The Tree documents a community of black artists, writers, curators and collectors in Toronto. Taken by four photographers over two months, these portraits do the work of making the Black arts community visible. The Black diaspora has always struggled with the problem of history and archive. It’s the reason Black arts in Canada continue to exist as a rumour. Parallel to the ways in which our histories in the nation have been rewritten and erased, Black arts in Canada have become an absented presence. This is the first chapter in a project that seeks to recognize a community whose endeavours have been rendered palimpsestic by consistent disregard from historicized Canadian art history.

The stakes of Black culture in Canada are high. Systemic racism in the form of violence and exclusion tears at the fabric of our many communities. Through visual arts we create new worlds and make sense of our histories, we are emboldened to confront the prerogatives of a multiculturalism that eclipses our integral place in the nation. There is such rich nuance to blackness here: it is no single thing. Our endeavours are held in the memories of several generations of folks who have shaped the Black arts scene through their various contributions. Going into the future we need to know of each other’s existence. Just as a tree needs light to grow, this community requires attention to focus and develop. In this first chapter, Light Grows The Tree begins the process of acknowledging those who have been the life force of Black arts in Toronto.

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