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Dentist, Trustee, Curator

February 14th, 2017

Kenneth Montague at the opening of his exhibition Position As Desired, February 10, 2017. Photograph by Yannick Anton.

Many people at the AGO have secret talents, but AGO Trustee Kenneth Montague is a true Renaissance man. He’s a prolific art collector, curator… and a dentist.

Sandra Brewster. Plain Black. 2011 . Mixed media on wood. 60 x 48 inches.

But in his long list of accomplishments, his latest artistic venture is a landmark for him: Since moving to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry over 25 years ago, it’s the first time he has curated an art exhibition in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario.

Now open at the Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW), Montague’s exhibition Position As Desired: Exploring African-Canadian Identity / Photographs from the Wedge Collection explores both the universal Black Canadian experience, but more personally, Montague’s own experience growing up black in Windsor. It’s the first major photo exhibition to cover this subject, with previous versions of the show having been shown at the Royal Ontario Museum and Pier 21 / The Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax.

Jordan, Anique. Detail from 94 Chestnut at the Crossroads . 2016. Digital c-print. 40 x 40 inches.

Position As Desired features 21 living artists, from established names like Stan Douglas to rising stars like Sandra Brewster. AGO visitors might recognize the work of Anique Jordan and her photography series 94 Chestnut at the Crossroads, which was on display recently as part of The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris. The collection of photos and video is curated chronologically, from early images of Black Canadians who arrived via the Underground Railroad to a newly-commissioned video by the Toronto-based In The Black Canada collective, featuring interviews with members of Windsor’s Black community, from high school students to Montague’s 87-year-old father.

“I think of this as my personal Canada 150 project,” Montague said, adding that this year also marks the 20th anniversary of his non-profit arts organization Wedge Curatorial Projects. “This is an opportunity to tell our stories in the place where we come from.”

Jon Blak. Jamall Brothers. 2012. Digital print. 40 x 30 inches.

Montague’s parents immigrated to Windsor from Jamaica in the 1950s and his father was one of the city’s first black high school teachers. Growing up, Montague’s life was filled with weekend trips to the artistic institutions of Windsor and nearby Detroit, and he continued to pursue his interest in visual art while attending university in Toronto, frequently visiting student and independent art shows.

“When I could afford it, I started acquiring works that resonated with my personal identity,” he said. (The Wedge Collection is named after the wedge-shaped room that first held Montague’s burgeoning art collection and for the fact that it provides a forum for African artists to “wedge” into the mainstream of contemporary art.)

Stacey Tyrell. Position As Desired. 2001. Silver gelatin print. 34 x 44 inches.

Eventually, his work on the Wedge Collection led him to AGO Curator of Photography, Sophie Hackett, and he acted as a consultant on the committee for the AGO’s groundbreaking exhibition, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time.

If you’re heading to southern Ontario between now and May 7, make sure to stop by the Art Gallery of Windsor to catch Position As Desired.

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