The whole world watched the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. We all knew this about police brutality against marginalized people. There was this feeling of helplessness seeing this unfold during lockdown.
Many Toronto galleries were sharing the black square posts which have become infamous now. Many people saw this as disingenuous and performative. I took it upon myself to hold up the mirror to these galleries because the artist (Esmaa Mohamoud) that first shared this on Instagram was saying that none of these galleries even represent any Black people yet here you are showing solidarity.
That was the starting point for me. I made this chart where I looked up 18 galleries and began an independent research documenting the roster of artists that galleries represented. I tried to organize this into different categories…race, identity, men, women. I shared this on Instagram and it got quite a bit of attention from the arts community- beyond the galleries. It began a bit of a trend where artists from other communities put in the same work.
One thing that stood out to me was I never found one Palestinian artist represented by any of them…like zero out of eighteen galleries. That was another punch to the gut of reality. There’s a lot of Arab artists in Canada and not seeing them represented was disheartening. On the other hand, it was also motivating to make me aware that when I do work with the gallery, I want them to care about people that they represent and not to just be sort of biased towards white male artists of a certain age or of a certain class.
What I did was very minimal and I know it will be even more impactful to start looking at arts institutions, museums and not-for-profits and keep going down that line. I did an interview and wrote an article with a Canadian art magazine. I’ve also been reached out to by quite a few artists from the BIPOC community asking if they could reference my work in their articles or research. I even heard from a couple of notable artists who left their gallery after seeing my researched work.
The best thing that came out of it was starting the conversation and getting everyone on board with this idea of deeply looking at organizations that you work with.