As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic, Art Museum at the University of Toronto
The ethos of community is at the heart of the collection from which this exhibition is drawn. Established by Dr. Kenneth Montague in 1997, the Wedge Collection is Canada’s largest privately owned collection committed to championing Black artists. The title As We Rise is borrowed from a phrase that Dr. Montague’s father would often invoke: “Lifting as we rise.” By this, he emphasized the importance of parlaying one’s personal success into communal good. He believed in investing back in the Black community to which he and his family belonged. As an ethic, “lifting as we rise” suggests an expanded sense of family, one that reaches beyond close relatives. As an exhibition, As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic embraces this expansive sensibility, centering the familial alongside the familiar.
Familiarity resides not just in the exhibition collectively, but in the photographs unto themselves. Black subjects are depicted by Black photographers, presented as they wish to be seen. Largely, these subjects are aware of the camera, and yet they never seem rigid or unnatural. The gaze is mutual and consensual. But the imagery produced is far from uniform. It is as varied, surprising, and heterogeneous as the Black Atlantic itself. Like a family album, it is idiosyncratic.
The concepts of community, identity, and power intersect and merge, discernable in many of the photographs not as features to be singled out but rather as a recognizable essence; a recognition of the complex strength, beauty, vulnerability, and irreducibility of Black life.
As Liz Ikiriko writes: “The pictures here forefront the experience of Black life, in all its myriad forms: a marker of the histories and spaces (real and ephemeral) that transcend geographic boundaries. . . . The collection extends out to a global diaspora and proclaims, ‘We are home.’”
The Wedge Collection was started in 1997 by Dr. Kenneth Montague to acquire and exhibit art that explores Black identity. In addition to the Wedge Collection, Montague founded Wedge Curatorial Projects, a nonprofit arts organization that helps support emerging Black artists. A Toronto-based art collector, Montague has been a member of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s board of trustees since 2015, and has served on the African acquisitions committee at Tate Modern, London, as well as on the photography curatorial committee of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
The texts in this exhibition are adapted from the book As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021).
Exhibition organized by Aperture, New York. Curated by Elliott Ramsey (curator, The Polygon Gallery, North Vancouver)
Image Credit: Zun Lee, Jebron Felder and his son Jae’shaun at home. Harlem, New York, September 2011. Courtesy of Zun Lee, from the Father Figure Project.
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