Brock art show, public lecture to delve into Niagara’s past

A two-part event meant to unravel the history of the Niagara region will take place at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts this week.

An art exhibition, Memories Known and Unknown, will be paired with a public lecture presented by Walker Cultural Leader Julie Crooks, entitled “The Bell-Sloman Collection at Brock University: A Fugitive Archive.”

Julie Crooks, PhD of History of Art and Archaeology, will present her Walker Cultural Leader lecture on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

Presented by the Department of Visual Arts as part of its ongoing celebration of Canada 150, the exhibition includes photographs and ephemera selected by Professors Keri Cronin, Linda Steer and Amy Friend from the Bell-Sloman Collection of the James A. Gibson Library.

The collection, donated to the University by Rick Bell in 2010, includes more than 300 photos and various papers spanning more than a century that document the Bell and Sloman families, who descended from former slaves in the American south.

The exhibition features a collection of reproductions and originals, including tintypes — a kind of photograph produced in the second half of the 19th century, said Linda Steer, Professor of Art History.

“Many people may not have seen them as originals,” she said of the collection’s appeal.

These tintypes, as Crooks claims are “remarkable in that they depict black folks creating and asserting an identity at the time of emancipation in the U.S.”

Crooks received her PhD in the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, U.K. She was most recently appointed Assistant Curator of Photography at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her public lecture will draw on current research that examines the ways in which by the mid- to late 19th century, black people in settlements throughout southern Ontario used photography as a critical and powerful tool for self-representation. She situates the Bell-Sloman Collection as a “fugitive archive,” built with defiance and resistance in order to preserve, salvage and recover the histories of black Canadian communities whose stories and material artifacts are often left untold or subject to erasure.

The goal of the event is to “attempt to make visible those histories that might be forgotten or underrepresented; the histories of black families in southern Ontario,” Steer said.

The exhibition and public lecture are different, but work together in a way that will “allow people to consider the questions and claims that Crooks makes,” she said. “It will also help (the audience) to reflect on local history and more broadly, on the process of self-documentation, something most of us now do daily on our smartphones, and the meaning of family photography.”

Held in the Visual Arts Exhibition Space of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, the exhibition showcases some of the material being presented in the Walker Cultural Leader lecture on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in the MIW Theatre.

The event is free but tickets are required and can be reserved through Eventbrite.  Limited onsite parking will be available.

The exhibition, which leads into Black History Month in February, opened in mid-January and will continue until Friday, Feb. 9.

Regular visiting hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.  A special reception on the evening of the Walker Cultural Leader lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Exhibition Space.

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