Ways of Thinking is designed for anyone interested in exploring contemporary art and its exhibition frameworks.
It offers contextualizing information on the concepts of the Gallery’s exhibitions and programs, the artists and the works featured. You can find a general presentation, areas of inquiry and ideas to reflect upon as well as suggested Internet links and bibliographic references that allow you to gain a general understanding of the artist’s approach to artmaking, the works featured and the curatorial framework adopted. It also offers a forum in which “ways of thinking” can be shared and compared: Within the ongoing program of the Gallery, and amongst the artists, curators, writers, and other contributors and participants including visitors. This takes on facets of physical and virtual forms, all of which are being collected here. Together, they form an information database and research repository that is accessible to students, teachers and anyone interested in the Gallery’s programs. This archive is an active one, because it renders the meeting points between the individual parts of the Gallery’s programs tangible.
Produced with the support of the Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy Art Education Fund
Ways of Thinking is designed for anyone interested in exploring contemporary art and its exhibition frameworks. It offers contextualizing information on the concepts of the Gallery’s exhibitions and programs, the artists and the works featured. You can find a general presentation, areas of inquiry and ideas to reflect upon as well as suggested Internet links and bibliographic references that allow you to gain a general understanding of the artist’s approach to artmaking, the works featured and the curatorial framework adopted. It also offers a forum in which “ways of thinking” can be shared and compared: Within the ongoing program of the Gallery, and amongst the artists, curators, writers, and other contributors and participants including visitors. This takes on facets of physical and virtual forms, all of which are being collected here. Together, they form an information database and research repository that is accessible to students, teachers and anyone interested in the Gallery’s programs. This archive is an active one, because it renders the meeting points between the individual parts of the Gallery’s programs tangible.
Produced with the support of the Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy Art Education Fund
February 21 – April 13, 2024
A project by Deanna Bowen
Organized by Michèle Thériault
This project was made possible by the Leonard & Bina Ellen Program in Support of Artistic Production
The Golden Square Mile is part of Bowen’s ongoing interrogation of the racist underpinnings and entanglements of industry, labour, art patronage, and nation building in nineteen and twentieth-century Canada. Here, her object of study is the immediate neighbourhood where the Gallery and Concordia University are located, an area once home to a white Anglo-Canadian elite who by the late nineteenth century held the highest concentration of wealth in the country.
Bowen’s artistic practice is firmly grounded in research. Conducted principally in institutional archives, she draws out the visual, material, and discursive evidence of white supremacy. Photographs, films, legal documents, news clippings and commemorative objects, all expose a fuller picture of the mentality and material effects of the British imperial project, its reliance on chattel slavery and land dispossession, and its perpetuation through policy, policing, and popular culture.
Out of these same archives, Bowen brings forward Black resistance and resilience. Setting askew the dominant narratives of empire and colonial settlement, she brings to light history in the hands of Black people and communities. Working with experiences and events excluded from archives, suppressed within them, or relegated to their margins, she opens them up to new connections. Some of links made are related to the history of her own family. Though not members of Montreal’s Black anglophone community, Bowen finds parallels through her family’s relation to the railroad, Black nightlife, and migration routes.
As you visit the exhibition, examine the images and documents closely. Just as outside the walls of the Gallery is the actual area in question, consider the lived realities surrounding each image or document. You may turn to the list of works for dates, titles, or short descriptions. As the context widens out of frame, look back for evidence of these realities edging their way into the documents. Where do you find them? What ways of looking, reading, and sensing can you employ to make them present and legible?
Deanna Bowen was born in 1969 in Oakland, California and is a descendant of two Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneer families from Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. Bowen’s family history has been the central pivot of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary works since the early 1990s. She makes use of a repertoire of artistic gestures in order to define the Black body and trace its presence and movement in place and time. She is a recipient of numerous grants and awards including the Scotiabank Photography Award (2021), the Governor’s General Award (2020), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2016,) and the William H. Johnson Prize (2014). Her writing, interviews and artworks have been published in Canadian Art, The Capilano Review, The Black Prairie Archives, and Transition Magazine. Bowen is editor of the publication Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada (2019). Bowen lives and works in Montreal, where she is an Assistant Professor of Intersectional Feminist and Decolonial 2D-4D Image Making and Co-Director of the Post Image Cluster at Concordia University.Close
“A Complex Mapping of Power”: Deanna Bowen’s Investigative Installations [Excerpt]
The Golden Square Mile in Montreal, much like the city’s Old Port, is an area of multiple histories. For some, these stories evoke an eerie sense of unease, whilst wandering these neighborhood’s streets. A sense of unsettlement emerges, as ongoing anti-Black and settler-colonial histories seep through the cracks of these historical sites. Deanna Bowen’s artistic practice tackles the disturbing annals of Canada by diving headlong into such cracks, using both private and public archives to illustrate “a complex mapping of power.”
Throughout her work, Bowen locates Black people, their presence and movement across time and space. Her own family history forms the crux of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary practice. She scrutinizes her family’s lineage, migration, and connections to Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley as well as to Black Strathcona, the Black prairie pioneers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Creek Negroes, the “All-Black” towns of Oklahoma, the Kansas Exoduster migrations, and the Ku Klux Klan in Canada and the United States.Bowen’s iterative and cumulative approach explores topics of white supremacy in the Canadian context, as they relate to global anti-Black and settler-colonial histories. Bowen’s artworks can be read as complementary pieces that imbricate one another, forming a metanarrative which frames her family history. Her project The Golden Square Mile thus slots into place among her other works.
The Golden Square Mile is a central portion of Montreal’s downtown area which developed between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Located at the foot of Mount Royal, the area was predominantly populated by affluent white families, who made their fortune through settler-colonial Canadian enterprises such as rail, shipping, timber, mining, fur, and banking. Among the borough’s key establishments and mansions were the structures that would become the (William) Notman House and the Beaver Hall.
Joana Joachim’s research and teaching interests include Black feminist art histories, Black diasporic art histories, critical museologies, Black Canadian studies, and Canadian slavery studies. Her SSHRC-funded doctoral work, There/Then, Here/Now: Black Women’s Hair and Dress in the French Empire, examined the visual culture of Black women’s hair and dress in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, investigating practices of self-preservation and self-care through the lens of creolization as well as historical and contemporary art practices. She earned her PhD in the department of Art History and Communication Studies and at the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at McGill University working under the supervision of Prof. Charmaine A. Nelson. In 2020 she was appointed a McGill Provostial Postdoctoral Research Scholar in Institutional Histories, Slavery and Colonialism. Joachim is Assistant Professor in Black Studies in Art Education, Art History and Social Justice at Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.
 Crystal Mowry, Crystal Mowry Introduces Deanna Bowen: Black Drones in the Hive, video tour, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, August 17, 2022, https://kwag.ca/content/deanna-bowen-black-drones-hive.
 Crystal Mowry, Exhibition Tour of Deanna Bowen: Black Drones in the Hive, video tour, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, August 17, 2022, https://kwag.ca/content/deanna-bowen-black-drones-hive.
 Mowry, Crystal Mowry Introduces Deanna Bowen.
 Patricia Harris and David Lyon, “Golden Square Mile,” in Compass American Guides: Montreal (New York: Fodor’s, 2004), 132–35.
 Margaret W. Westley, Remembrance of Grandeur: The Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal, 1900–1950(Montreal: Éditions Libre Expression, 1990), 331; Larry Gingras, The Beaver Club Jewels (Richmond, BC: L. Gingras, 1972); Douglas Mackay, The Honorable Company, A History of the Hudson’s Bay Company (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1936).Close
For Bowen, each ensemble of images is one part in a larger story. As studies in recollection, storytelling, and history writing, she builds her narratives by layering and interlacing different scales of historical time. Drawing principally from public archives, each part is made of images, documents, and objects representing major global political occurrences, specific community events, and personal histories. Another way to think about these arrangements is to view them as constellations, from which underlying patterns emerge. In face of white dominant narratives, each part offers a non-linear reading of history that reveals racist fascinations with and real violence against Black people and recovers the Black lives and experiences that white history aims to supress but can’t do without.
Moving constelation to constellation ask: who are the protagonists or subjects of each narrative? What forms of documents represent them?
Look closely. What narratives do you read in each individual image and how do they change as you connect them to the surrounding images?
Can you identify the different scales of history? How does each chapter read to you if you shift your focus between them?Close
Conducting her research in public, white-authored archives, Bowen is looking at once for two silences: the exclusion of Black people and communities from dominant, racist national and local narratives, and the disavowal of the place of white supremacy in these same histories. Reordering the archives to tell a story that they refuse to tell, she draws together seemingly banal fragments of the white Anglo-Canadian cultural, economic and political elite—snapshots, commemorative objects, newspaper and magazine clippings, bureaucratic miscellany, correspondence, ledgers and studies—to expose the racism shoring up everyday society and shaping national and imperial policies. Displacing the primacy of the white sovereigns, industrialists, and politicians governing these archives, Bowen draws out the experiences of Black people whose lives and communities, along with evidence of their refusal and survival of dominating conditions, have been intentionally hidden.
As a visitor, how do you read for and with silences? Moving from document to document, ask: who made this document, whose voice does it carry, and what is its primary intention?
How can silences be found in the visual—in a graphic illustration or a photograph, for example? In what ways can you describe the silences that you see?
How does the part read if you focus on the primary content or purpose of the documents assembled? And how does it read if you focus on what is not said or what is left out?Close
Continuing the above thoughts on silence and time scales, consider the place of music and musicality in the exhibition. You’ll find in the exhibition histories of jazz in Montreal, accounting for its performance, social life, and cultural transformations. Bowen also unpacks one of jazz’s antecedents: the cakewalk, a music and dance first developed on plantations in the southern United States by slaves mocking slaveowners, only to be misunderstood and appropriated as a Black stereotype by white minstrel performers in blackface. Musically, the cakewalk incorporates polyrhythm and syncopation. Polyrhythmic music is composed with multiple different and concurrent rhythms. Syncopation describes the stress, accents, and interruptions brought to a rhythm. Matching coexistent historical times, adding new emphasis or slowing down to a pause, Bowen’s critical reordering of national and imperial narratives can be thought of as a musical act as much as one in display and storytelling.
Look and listen for the exhibition’s rhythms and frequencies. What is constant? What repeats? What interrupts or changes the pace?
As with the cakewalk, consider instances of reinterpretation, appropriation, and mimicry found in other documents presented. What version of the story or history are you presented with? Who is the author? What is its origin?
In music notation, a time signature is found at the beginning of a musical score and introduces how the piece is to be played. Upon entering the exhibition, how does Bowen communicate the ways you, the visitor, can navigate and study it?Close
In this exhibition, Bowen has employed a salon-style system to display the archival images that she’s assembled. In today’s use, “salon” is a general term for a large, dense, and varied hanging of art works. Its source can be traced to the biannual juried exhibition of academic paintings first hung at the Louvre Palace in Paris in the late seventeenth century. Falling under the control of a cultural and economic elite, salons led by Royal Academies in France and later England were spectacular public pageants in the allotment of power, status, and value. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Art Association of Montreal would mount their own annual salons. Adopted by the rich white Anglo-Canadians into their private residences and the museums under their patronage, these exhibitions offered visual accompaniments to the dominant white national, historical, and cultural narratives of the modern colonial era through to the mid-twentieth century.
What value and use do you think the history of this type of display has for Bowen?
What forms of power can you identify in the displays found in the exhibition? When is it from above? When is it from below?
Consider the uses of these types of display in museums and upper-class white Anglophone homes in nineteenth and twentieth-century Montreal. Whose eyes were they intended for? How might they have been read by the domestic workers?Close
Alongside the neighbourhood that it shares its title with, Bowen’s exhibition concerns a second—the area known today as Little Burgundy. Located downhill from the mansions and offices of the city’s and country’s white Anglo-Canadian ruling-class, Little Burgundy was home to a large part of Montreal’s low-income working-class Black anglophone community. The neighbourhood was intimately tied to the rail lines that bisected it and to the nearby stations. Men worked as sleeping car porter, dining car employees, and red caps, while many women worked uphill as domestic labourers, among their patrons the owners of the rail companies and factories south of the escarpment. Uphill, white nationalism and imperial culture were being cemented through pacts between artists’ associations and museums, private companies, and banks. Downhill, Little Burgundy was home to key faith-based community and political organizations, fighting for local and international autonomy and rights, as well as a thriving cultural nightlife anchored by jazz and dance.
Think of multiple exposures in photography. Instead of connections between images, imagine superimposing a selection of them. What becomes visible to you? What comes to the foreground? What appears in the background?
How is racialized and gendered labour represented? When are workers visible? When is their labour, and its products, seen in other forms?
Examine the place of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the exhibition. What image is presented of the railroad? How did these documents contribute to a national narrative? And what is absent from these representations?Close
Among the histories Bowen is seeking out are those that belong to her family. Anchoring her work in her genealogy, she traces and retraces her family’s northward migration from the Midwestern United States to homesteading in Alberta and later westward to Vancouver, each project revealing further details. Through autoethnography, Bowen meets the archive at an intimate register. Facing the erasure of the lives and experiences of Black people from historical records, and the real violence that accompanies this, Bowen interrogates how a racist state shapes not only its own story in its interest, but also those of communities, families, and individuals. Reordering the archive is one way to expose the fraught narratives it relies on; it is also an act of repossession that puts history back in motion, into the hands and under the eyes of the people and communities it was designed to exclude.
In what ways might you approach Bowen’s exhibition as a new archive, resource, and research tool?
What is at stake for the researcher who positions themselves as both subject and object of inquiry? What can self-reflexive research access, that removed or distanced investigation cannot?
Mixed in among the photographs are scans of negatives. What properties do negatives carry and what is their role in the photographic process? How do you understand their status when seen displayed alongside developed photographs?Close