The next time you’re walking downtown and see glamorous fashion advertisements on streetcar stops or on a tall billboard, stop and take another look. It could be one of the photographs by artists Camille Turner and Camal Pirbhai in their Wanted series – part of the AGO’s recently opened exhibition Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood.
Don’t worry – we’ve made it easy to find them. There are three separate locations to see these amazing works: Level 4 of the Contemporary Tower, you immediately encounter a large photograph of a striking woman in an elegant floral dress, standing by a phone booth; the east side of the Gallery, overlooking McCaul St., you’ll find an even larger image of a man dressed in a bold red and green jacket, his left foot propped up in a light brown cowboy boot; and at the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas, you’ll see a much larger-than-life image of Tracy Moore (host of Cityline) inside a gym, holding a weight and wearing a red velvet petticoat.
We think you’ll be struck by the beauty of the photos’ composition. But what you may not realize at first is that the clothing in Wanted is inspired by real-life escaped slave ads found in Canadian newspapers in the 1800s. Those ads, placed by Canadian slave owners to help find and return enslaved people who had escaped confinement, used descriptions of what each person was wearing at the time of their escape. Those descriptions have now inspired Turner and Pirbhai’s project, turning them into high fashion glossy ads.
Here’s what Camal and Camille had to say about the project:
“Our goal is to provoke a discussion that is relevant to our current times and more importantly, to manifest the vision we have for the future. It’s too simplistic to look back and criticize or pass judgment. Explaining the ways in which the nation’s past has shaped our current society is the job of historians and sociologists. We are looking for an audience to engage with this work on a more subconscious level. We consciously endeavour to speak to audiences who are not patrons of the arts, and who may not even be aware that they are looking at a piece of art.”
– Camal Pirbhai
“In this series of photographs, we address historical silencing by drawing on ads that were placed by Canadian slave owners in 1900s newspapers, when the people they enslaved had escaped. Using performers, we create images that seek to restore the humanity of people who were deemed property and excluded from Canada’s historical narratives. We honour the courage they demonstrated through their resistance, and we strive to present them in ways that they must have imagined themselves, as people performing their right to freedom.”
– Camille Turner
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Every.Now.Then: Reframing Nationhood Supporters: