The extraordinary ingredients were prepared 30 years ago. Carefully placed, within the heart of the home, she mixed them every day, for months. Long before breakfast, and at mid-afternoon, she meticulously arranged the spreads, unlike anything previously made by men. Stirred by a deep hunger, the radical recipe satiated a powerful craving. Now, well-preserved and often desired, her creation remains astonishingly fresh and nourishes the soul.
In 1990, Carrie Mae Weems created The Kitchen Table Series and transformed how women were represented and seen. This year’s Festival spotlight on Weems brings together an inimitable selection of works created since then—forming a major solo exhibition in five parts—to probe and celebrate her influential practice. Weems’ timeless narratives about gender, race, relationships, and power align here with a number of concurrent presentations by women artists who critically examine ideas of agency, endurance, family, and community.
Reclaiming the past to explore the complex realities of women today, Ayana V. Jackson’s self-portraits, displayed within the context of a 19th-century home, intrepidly confront a legacy of racial oppression, and Carmen Winant’s collected images, shown on billboards, herald global movements and protests to activate a history of empowerment. An array of primary exhibitions includes in-depth enquiries: Moyra Davey’s photographs and videos are informed by relationships, books, and objects that nurture a sense of self; Meryl McMaster examines her Indigenous and European ancestry as a cyclical and linear experience that has profound connections to the land; and Nadia Myre’s multimedia practice considers the politics of belonging against a feminist backdrop. In site-specific public installations, both Zinnia Naqvi and Nadine Stijns combine images of accumulated ephemera, sharing the collective experiences and cultural traditions of migrant communities in Canada and around the world.
Through collaborations with artists and cultural partners across the city, critical subjects emerge in tandem with local and global concerns. Together these convergent interests form the touchstones of our Core Exhibitions, revealed in the sequencing of the pages that follow. The built environment is the subject and site of projects by artists from across the globe, including Michael Tsegaye, who captures dramatic shifts caused by urbanization and rapid changes to Ethiopia’s social infrastructure. Esther Hovers’ installation analyzes the power structures that increasingly surveil urban spaces through pervasive and ever-evolving technologies; the photographic diptychs of Peter Funch offer a more introspective take on surveillance. Susan Dobson’s site-specific positioning of images exposes the city’s processes of erection and destruction; and within the context of Toronto’s Financial District, Sputnik Photos collective uncovers traces of failed utopic systems that once existed behind the Iron Curtain. Suspended between two geographies, Taysir Batniji looks at the military architecture and destroyed infrastructure of Palestine; and Manar Moursi focuses on improvised structural interventions in Cairo that challenge the authorities governing urban development.
Histories of aerial conflict and trauma are explored through the patterns of warfare that permeate the commissioned project by Sanaz Mazinani and a video installation by Nevet Yitzhak, who both depict weaponry to make poignant statements against armed aggression. The intersection between space exploration and the public imaginary is considered in Bianca Salvo’s images, which scrutinize interstellar enterprise and the gap between fact and fiction, and in Elizabeth Zvonar’s massive mural inspired by the Milky Way, which plays with notions of an infinite galaxy.
Human impact on the natural environment is a topic of concern for numerous artists. Nadia Belerique’s images of river detritus show evidence of a neglected waterway that runs through the city; Annette Mangaard approaches the theme of water from an environmental and conceptual perspective; and Mario Pfeifer’s scenic mural signals undercurrents of land-claims issues for a community nearing extinction in Chile. Increased intervention in the North necessitates a deeper understanding of its cultures, especially in light of climate change and geopolitics: the collaborative practice of Arnait Video Collective’s women filmmakers from Nunavut focuses on the shared traditions and urgent viewpoints of its members, while photojournalist Louie Palu surveys the repercussions of military presence in the Arctic. All of the artists in CONTACT’s 2019 Core Exhibitions— too many to name here—present outstanding works that invite interaction. Bringing ideas to the table that stimulate vital conversations and nurture enduring relationships, they transform the places where people come together.