Aaron Jones, Ebti Nabag, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
Situated in the Scarborough community of Malvern, Three-Thirty performs a map-making exercise, highlighting and connecting streets, paths home, and the spaces in between. Through a series of commissioned projects incorporating collage, portraiture, archival images, video, and performance, Aaron Jones (Pickering), Ebti Nabag (Toronto), and Kelly Fyffe-Marshall (London/Toronto/Jamaica) interrogate where, how, and with whom knowledge can be centred.
The cartographer says
What I do is science. I show
the earth as it is, without bias.
I never fall in love. I never get involved with the muddy affairs of land.
Too much passion unsteadies the hand. I aim to show the full
of a place in just a glance.
The rastaman thinks, draw me
a map of what you see
then I will draw a map of what you never see and guess me whose map will
be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?
—Kei Miller, The Cartographer tries to map a way to Zion
Three-Thirty is a multi-site exhibition that draws on youth after-school culture as a site of possibility and meaning making in which young people assert how they mark, claim, and inhabit their community. It is an extension of how youth encode what they create as part of a culture through fashion, language, and the shared presence of their bodies. The act of acknowledging these forms of codification complicates the blanket notion that these spaces, and inevitably the people inhabiting them, are without authority or agency. The project aims to explore how people can influence their environments when they are told they do not have the power to do so. Using the public spaces of local high school Pearson Collegiate Institute, the Malvern Public Library, and the Doris McCarthy Gallery at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Nabag, Jones, and Fyffe-Marshall explore the role of systems, built form, voice, and presence in transforming space.
Working closely with students of Pearson Collegiate Institute, Nabag’s life-size portraits of high school students, Bubble of Youth (2020) celebrate the gestures, body language, fashion, and friendships entangled in the high school experience. Built in the late 1970s, Pearson Collegiate was intentionally designed to use hallways, lighting, and classroom location to replicate the “complete neighbourhood” of the surrounding community. Mounted on one of the school’s external walls, Nabag’s photo-based mural integrates elements of the building’s brickwork and interior design into the imagery, visually weaving together the students and their surroundings to imagine ways young people create their own spaces inside and outside of school. Nabag’s work can also be found at University of Toronto Scarborough, inside and outside the Doris McCarthy Gallery.
For Seeing Knowledge (2020), on the façade of the Malvern Public Library and at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, Jones extends his collage and assemblage practice to create imagery sourced through the branch’s Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage book collection. This resource, housed at only three other Toronto Public Library branches, is recognized as one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of Black, Caribbean, and Canadian literature in Canada. This particular library branch, also sharing the neighborhood recreation centre, is a pivotal cultural marker for young people in Malvern. Jones’ work generates provocative and compelling juxtapositions between Malvern’s archival materials and images found in the Cox collection that speak to issues of Blackness, history, and Canadiana.
Film director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s three-channel video installation, POWER (2020), shown at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, depicts recent interviews with an intergenerational group of Black people who are asked what power looks like for them now. The video, a pointed visual of the times, shows interviewees removing their personal protective equipment (fabric face masks) to respond to a question laced with undertones of Blackness, power, and global events. Exhibiting this immersive installation at a university art gallery allows Fyffe-Marshall to reach a local population, while speaking to the complex and multidimensional aspects of community, voice, and sense of place, centred on the voice of Black people.
While Three-Thirty attends to youth living in a particular place, the questions at its foundation extend broadly to ask how spaces, communities, and land are shared, written onto, and transformed by those who are often not seen as powerful. Presented in the era of a Black Lives Matter and a global pandemic, these questions have never been more urgent.
Curated by Anique Jordan
This essay was originally written for CONTACT 2020 and updated for the 2021 Festival
Co-presented with Doris McCarthy Gallery
Supported by the Ontario Arts Council Culturally Diverse Curatorial Project Grant; Shon and Cindy Barnett