Open until December 10, Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood is the AGO’s response to the country’s 150th anniversary, decidedly positioning itself as a critique instead of a celebration, of dominating narratives in Canadian history and culture. It opened this past June and runs until December 10.
The exhibition includes the photo series Wanted by artists Camille Turner and Camal Pirbhai, which repurposes authentic 18th century fugitive slave ads printed in Canada. They feature detailed descriptions of the clothing worn by people who had resisted enslavement by escaping from their captors. The artists recreated the outfits described in those ads and, with the help of local models, reimagined them as high-fashion magazine spreads. One of the photos, featuring Cityline host Tracy Moore, was displayed on the digital billboard on the Eaton Centre above Yonge-Dundas Square this past July.
We recently spoke to Tracy about why she decided to pose for the Wanted series:
AGO: How did you get involved in the Wanted series?
Tracy: Camal, one of the artists, had had a few of his pieces on Cityline and thought of me when he and Camille were thinking of using a known model as part of this exhibit. They were looking for someone who was known but to shine a different light on them for this particular project. He knew me as the host of Cityline, he knew me as a mom of two, but he also liked the backstory of the fact that I’m a daughter of immigrants, I’m racially-conscious, I represent for a lot of people strength, and I think these are some of the reasons why he came to me.
I probably had to ask him five times to explain the project to me to make sure I understood it, but when I finally did, I said that this is the kind of thing I would want to be a part of and to come back to me with some details, and he said to start thinking about how I would want to be portrayed as a free and empowered former slave.
AGO: Where did the concept for your shoot come from?
Tracy: The first thing I thought of, even in that first conversation, was fitness or the gym. The place I feel the strongest every day is in the gym. I feel like fitness is, in a lot of ways, a metaphor for getting through life. There are days when you plow through your workout and you feel like the strongest person in the world; there are days when you struggle and you still have to get through your reps and you have to figure out mentally how you’re going to push through. All of those things help you in day-to-day life.
It’s also such a symbol of power when you have a strong core and muscles, it pulls you away from, I think, being concerned with the aesthetic that society pushes on women. When you can shift the focus to strength and away from image, I think it’s a very powerful thing. So combining that with this whole idea of being, for all intents and purposes, a revolutionary, I think they’re both strong concepts to pair together.
AGO: Can you describe the outfit you wore, and the newspaper ad it came from?
Tracy: The newspaper ad was from a 1700 Canadian periodical. They would put out wanted ads for anyone brave enough to escape and put out a reward because of course we were chattel, we were property, and it was lost money if your slave had escaped.
We knew we wanted a long black dress with a red vest or coat overtop. Camal’s strength being creating beautiful, lux fabrics, he made the vest. The dress was a dress I pulled from my clothing sponsor Frida’s and we chose the one with the long dramatic slit up the leg. So we were going on the wanted ad description, we just wanted to modernize it a bit and make it the combination that you might see in 2017.
AGO: What does the photo series mean to you?
Tracy: To me, it means a lot. It’s a comment on the past and it’s a part of history that is not taught enough in Canada. I do not think we have a rich and storied history about the Black Canadian experience in our school system. I know I didn’t. My children are starting to get that at five and seven, but I had to get that education at home or take it upon myself. In that respect, I believe it’s serving the purpose in having people at least look at the history of slavery and the imprint and legacy of slavery. We have to start looking at the legacy of slavery and how it is still playing out today. One of the reasons we wanted to have it in Yonge-Dundas Square was that it’s a place of consumerism, and when people look up they might think it’s an ad for a big box clothing store. Many big box clothing stores are actually investing in slavery to get their clothing made so they can keep the cost low and sell it at a cheaper price point here in the Western world. That’s a continuation of a system that has been going on forever.
I think that people don’t necessarily want to dig in to these meaty topics unless there’s a very provocative way for them to engage in it, and this photo series presents these issues in a very provocative way.
AGO: What was it like having your photo on the big screen at Yonge Dundas Square?
Tracy: I never thought that the first time I’d be up in a billboard, 95-feet-tall above Yonge-Dundas Square would be in a retrospective on slavery. I kind of almost think it was the most fitting way for me to make my huge, giant entrance into Yonge-Dundas Square. I felt so proud about being part of a project that questions all the things that I used to question in school, and really brings an issue that is uncomfortable and unpopular to the forefront and in a way that is completely unexpected. I’m thrilled to be a part of it and I’m honoured that Camal and Camille trusted me to be part of such an important project for them and I’m never going to forget the experience. The first day I saw it, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, they’re really doing it! Unbelievable!’ My family members and my parents really enjoyed it too.
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