On September 8, graduate students from the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design and Criticism and Curatorial Practice programs joined artist Anique J. Jordan for a unique neighbourhood tour that highlighted the hidden history of a construction site close to OCAD University.
The tour started behind City Hall on Chestnut Street where the new provincial courthouse building is planned for construction. Anique shared with the group that this site has a deep history that is obscured by the large, grey, hoarding that now traces the perimeter of the lot. Upon beginning construction, the development company discovered thousands of cultural artifacts from the site’s history as the location of a British Methodist Episcopal church, rooted in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city called The Ward. Originally built in 1845, the church was a crucial site for Toronto’s black community playing an important role as a spiritual, community, and cultural centre.
Now the site is surrounded by imposing hoarding that demands to ‘post no bills’; it offers no narrative or suggestion of the site as one of historical civic significance. Anique is particularly interested in what she perceives as an erasure of the histories of the black and immigrant communities that previously thrived in that neighbourhood. With no signage, no commemoration, and no invitation for conversation, the current construction site illuminates a complicated relationship between historical preservation and the high-speed drive for new development in Toronto.
From this former church site Anique led the tour group to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition The Idea of North, where works by contemporary artists are exhibited alongside paintings by the iconic Canadian artist Lawren Harris. Anique’s works in the exhibition speak directly to the history of the black community within The Ward that Harris also used as a subject in many of his early paintings. Her works, that directly reference the Chestnut Street site, create a contemporary history that speaks back to the historical narratives that are currently being built over, in an attempt to recreate a more accurate and honest conversation about the history of our city and its citizens.
This artist tour was organized by Dr. Andrea Fatona, the Graduate Program Director for the Criticism and Curatorial Practice program. It was part of Graduate Studies Orientation week where all new students were welcomed to OCAD U - and its surrounding neighbourhood!
For more on Anique’s work in The Idea of North exhibition, see her interview: http://artmatters.ca/wp/2016/08/an-interview-with-toronto-artist-anique-jordan-lawren-harris-toronto-and-a-complicated-history/
For more on Anique’s work: https://aniquejjordan.com/
For more on the British Methodist Episcopal church construction site: https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/15/torontos-black-history-unearthed-in-excavation-of-landmark-church.html
For more on OCAD University graduate programs: http://www.ocadu.ca/academics/graduate-studies.htm
Images courtesy of Karina Iskandarsjah www.karinais.com