African-Canadian exhibit raises questions about limits of Black History Month

Feb 10, 2020 | Arts

The art and objects on display at Canadians of African Descent: Going Forward, Guided by the Past, illustrates the hardships faced by and the contributions of African-Canadians. (Pooja Luthra)
Pooja Luthra

Etobicoke Civic Centre marked the 30th anniversary of Black History Month with an exhibit celebrating Black culture, art and history.                            

The exhibit at 399 The West Mall runs until Feb. 7 as part of a tour around various city facilities in the GTA that features dozens of paintings by Toronto artists with African roots. The works illustrate important figures and moments in Black history in Canada.

It also includes African-made textiles, instruments and other cultural objects.

The installation, entitled “Canadians of African Descent: Going Forward, Guided by the Past,” recognizes the International Decade for People of African Descent, which the United Nations declared in 2013 and would be observed until 2024.

“Black History Month is a way to honour and acknowledge the struggles of the people of African descent who lived and fought racism,” said Angela Thomas, founder of Mentoring Through Artistic Cultural Education (M.A.C.E.) and the exhibit’s project coordinator.

Thomas said the art display is a way to celebrate the history, heritage and contributions of Africans in the building of Canadian culture.

“It is important to teach not only black children but also the younger generation about the value of history and culture, and how to be proud of it,” she said.

Jahmela Thomas, a visitor at the Etobicoke Civic Centre exhibit, sees Black History Month as an opportunity to acknowledge Black history.

“Black History Month is an important time period to learn about the diversity and inclusion of Black people in Canada,” she said.

The 30th Anniversary of Black History month was celebrated at Etobicoke Civic Centre on Feb. 2 by displaying artworks pertaining to the Black community.

Others, however, said restricting the celebrations of Black Canadians to a single month undermines the community’s contributions to the country.

“The month of February is a façade,” said Jacqueline Dwyer, a member of Toronto’s Black Farmers Collective who also visited the exhibit. “[Having] one month to honour and acknowledge the existence of people from African descent is basically like ignoring and neglecting them.”

Dwyer said Black History Month should only be celebrated once the economic, health and sustainability needs of Black Canadians are met.

Noel Livingston, a Toronto-based economist who visited the Etobicoke Civic Centre for the exhibit, agreed.

“One month is not enough to claim our history,” he said.