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Figure in motion

July 22nd, 2019


Sandra Brewster. Blur 18, 2017. Photo-based gel transfer on archival paper,101.6 cm x 88.9 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects. © Sandra Brewster

Our experiences and memories make us who we are. In her Blur series, Canadian artist Sandra Brewster explores layered experiences of identity; ones that may bridge relationships between Canada and elsewhere, as well as between the present and the past.

Ahead of the public opening for Sandra Brewster: Blur, happening on Wednesday, July 24 at 6 p.m., we spoke to Brewster about her work.

Sandra Brewster, image courtesy of the artist.

AGO: Is there a common point of reference for all the works in the exhibition?
Brewster: My works reference a movement from one place to another place. In this particular exhibition, the blur is like an inward movement, representing the subjects in the portraits as layered with a depth of experiences that influence their sense of who they are as human beings. 

AGO: You were an Artist in Residence at the AGO this past year. Tell us a little about what you discovered in the AGO archive, and how you sought to bring it to life?
Brewster: During my time as AiR, I visited the Photography Department and saw the process used to document the collection. This made me think of the objects collected and cherished in the homes of the Caribbean community here in Toronto.

I reached out to my circle of Caribbean friends, family and colleagues living in Toronto to gather these precious objects in order to document them. In an AGO studio, I photographed each piece in preparation for making photo-based gel transfers and chose some to be photographed in the Photography Department. I also collected audio recordings of all of my contributors’ reflections about the object they submitted, describing their importance.

The resultant work became Token | Contemporary Ongoing, an exhibition at A Space Gallery. It was accompanied with a text by Nehal El-Hadi. Sally Frater curated the current showing of Token for Or Gallery in Vancouver, which is on view until August 3rd. 

AGO: Movement is a recurring theme in your work, with figures often portrayed in motion.  How does that relate to your interest in cultural memory?
Brewster: My family moved from Georgetown, Guyana to Toronto in the late ‘60s. I’m sure this migration impacted my family’s sense of self. To this day, I can sense the connection of my parent’s generation to their past home. I can also sense the same in those from my generation, born in Toronto, who have a certain connection with “back home”, mainly through the storytelling and cultural customs we were raised with.

Many of these practices are seen in the streets of Toronto through actions like Caribana, a festival that had a great influence on my sense of community as a young person.

Quite simply, I’m hoping that the “figures in motion”, the “Blurs” are expressing something that feels multilayered – a mash up of time, location, experience…that Blackness is not one note.

AGO: You move between drawing, video and photo-based works.  How do these processes connect to each other and to the subject matter?
Brewster: My work is embodying the movement that is expressed in the imagery. In my photo-based gel transfers, I transfer ink from a print to a new surface. It is also a physically rigorous process. The resultant work gives the appearance of going through a change, which is unavoidable within the materiality of the work. 

Sandra is the 2018 recipient of the Artist Prize from Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts and was a 2018 Artist in Residence at the AGO.

Join us on Wednesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. to celebrate the opening of Sandra Brewster: Blur, an exhibition of new and recent work that gestures toward movement from one place to another place.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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