Commemorating Juneteenth with Black Canadian Artists

Commemorating Juneteenth with Black Canadian Artists

Ahh, June.The days are long, the weather is warmbut not yet steamy hotand (in normal, non-pandemic years) the art fair season is getting underway.This year, since we are still in the middle (or near the end) of a pandemic, I've decided to share some amazing Black Canadian artists in commemoration of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth, which is now a US Federal holiday, is the oldest known holiday that commemorates the freedom of the slaves in Texas in 1865, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. Slaves were not freed in the Confederacy until the Union army was able to come in and take over. On June 18, 1865 the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and the next day—June 19th—General Gordon Granger announced that the slaves in Texas were free by order of the President of the United States.

I think this day serves as an important reminder of our history (yes, in Canada, too) to reflect on our progress, and acknowledge how much more we need to do to eliminate systemic racism that is deeply rooted in our culture.

So to commemorate this important day, I'd like to celebrate a few Black Canadian artists whose works are inspired by their histories and cultural identities, as well as addressing the issues of racism. These three artists are exhibiting alongside 400+ other artists (including myself) in the upcoming Toronto Outdoor Art Fair (TOAF), which runs online from July 2-11.


First up is Cheryl Rock, recipient of TOAF’s Best in Show Two-Dimensional Works (2019 and 2020) and the 2020 Mayor’s Purchase Award.

I love the ethereal beauty of her paper art. Each work is bold, yet delicate. The women she portrays are strong, yet the artwork is literally fragile. It's a striking and beautiful contrast.

From her TOAF Profile: Cheryl Rock completed her BFA at the University of Windsor. Passionate about the power of diverse stories, she has a focus on reconnecting to oral tradition through her imagery. She works with archival paper and mixed media. Cheryl is inspired to create dialogue through commonalities in human experience. Currently featured at Toronto’s Blue Crow Gallery, her past exhibits include Blue Dot Gallery and The Royal Ontario Museum. Cheryl was awarded TOAF’s Best in Show Two-Dimensional Works (2019, 2020) and the 2020 Mayor’s Purchase Award.

Cheryl Rock’s current series is BLOOM. She uses her two-dimensional hand cut-paper pieces to communicate notions of beauty, resilience, and transformation common to our lived experiences. Her work amplifies stories of the Black diaspora impacted by systemic injustice and the universality of the pandemic. Cheryl presents a counternarrative exploring identity, re-generation, and tenacity of the human spirit.


Next up is Christine Nnawuchi, who makes lovely, minimalistic porcelain wall art that tells a story imbued with history. These treasures—tools and adornments—give us a glimpse into the community and life of an ancient village, evocative of her African roots.

"Porcelain's readiness to be transformed makes it a perfect medium for exploring the beauty in imperfection. I embrace all possibilities that arise when creating. The eclectic, organic sensibility of these sculptures is reminiscent of an ancient time and speaks to my ancestral African roots. These wall sculptures occupy the liminal space between artefact and lore. My work looks to examine these objet d’art with their own tales and history and endeavours to recreate a mythology of my own making."

—Christine Nnawuchi



Last, but definitely not least is Kando. I can look at this painting for hours—the loose brush strokes and unexpected pops of colour contrasting with the calm expression of the subject's face captivates me.

From his TOAF profile: Kando is a professional visual artist. He was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, he lives and works in Montreal. He completed his training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kinshasa and he studied Environmental Design at UQAM. For 10 years now, Kando has been developing his work through research on the individual and identity, because he feels a deep desire for freedom.


I hope you've enjoyed these pieces as much as I do.

Please visit the artists profiles on the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair website, and follow them on social media.

There will be a lot more fun to come when TOAF kicks off on July 2, 2021!

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1 comment

Thank you for highlighting these local BIPOC artists and for reminding us of the momentous occasion of Juneteenth being recognized as a National holiday! Yes!

Micheline Roi

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