Maybe it’s the sound of the soft music or the sight of the vibrant colours that draws you into the space; either way, I Rise, the new exhibition by Canadian-Maroon artist Winsom, captivates your senses. Inside this new two-room exhibition filling the south end of the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art, you’ll find incredible large-scale multimedia installations of photography, sculpture, painting and more that explore themes of freedom, resilience, renewal and African spirituality.
Winsom is an Afrocentric artist who was born in Maroon. She later moved to Canada and currently works as an artist, activist, mentor and healer. Once an AGO course instructor, Winsom has a long history with the museum, and her work was featured in the 2016 group show Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989.
We asked Winsom to tell us more about the two works featured in I Rise – The Masks We Wear and Jumping the Boa.
Winsom: This room, The Masks We Wear, focuses on healing and transformation. The elements we use for healing are all here – fire, water, nature, earth and mineral.
A man once came to me for healing. As part of my practice, I bury people in an earth shrine (filled with soil) to be healed. As I watched him I thought, he could be used to represent earth in this piece. In the exhibition, you’ll see a photograph of this man half buried in the earth shrine. I originally wanted to use real earth and a real person too, but we couldn’t make that happen.
Winsom: Then we move through the archway and surrounding it are little bags filled with medicines and remedies. If you read the labels, you’ll see that each bag is meant for different things – all themed around healing and abundance. When people pass through this archway, they’ll feel that and receive some of the healing.
Winsom: The next room in the exhibition, Jumping the Boa, is about death. It’s my belief that the afterlife is basically the same as this world except everything is upside down. The table on the ceiling represents this belief.
Winsom: Here you’ll see an altar with images of people who are all meaningful to me. Odetta, the jazz and blues singer, pushed me to continue working on my art. There’s also Emily Carr, my mother, Marie Catherine Laveau (a voodoo priestess from New Orleans), Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson and Canadian painter Doris McCarthy.
Winsom: I chose to use the colour red to represent the ancestors and there is a bowl of water to create a feeling of calmness. This will help you think of people you love who have passed – in this space you can talk to them, write down your thoughts and leave them here. I like doing interactive pieces like this. Sometimes I use the messages in new pieces or add them to old works.