Portraits featured in Richmond art exhibit highlight complexity of black experience

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One of the artists featured in a new exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Center says she hopes visitors leave with an understanding that black people are as multidimensional as anyone else.

Sade Alexis says showing the black experience through portraits humanizes black people and allows them to live authentically.

“Darkness is joyful. It’s pain, it’s love. It’s kindness, it’s contemplation. It’s so much more than one thing,” Alexis said.

The exhibit, which runs throughout Black History Month, features several portraits of Alexis and Joella Daniela. This is a joint initiative of the City of Richmond and Richmond Black History Month.

Richmond Black History Month was launched by Mary Wilson in 2016 to recognize and celebrate the vast contributions people of African descent have made to Canada.

The Black History Month Art Exhibit at the Richmond Cultural Center features the work of local artists Joella Daniela and Sade Alexis. (The City of Richmond)

Johnny Trinh, Community Arts Coordinator for the City of Richmond, says Alexis and Daniela were chosen after pitching their art to a committee. Trinh says the purpose of the expo, which has been running since 2018, is to celebrate the diversity of the community.

“This exhibit is really about connecting to our roots and showing and acknowledging how our ancestors are like our protectors and lead the way for us,” he said.

Vancouver-based artist Daniela says she has seven digital illustrations on display that focus on different themes like family relationships between parent and child, skin color and hair.

Daniela says these pieces made her think deeply about how she defines herself and how she perceives other black people around her.

“There’s not just one way to be black, but also… there’s so much about being black that’s worth celebrating,” she said.

Safe House Sarah

Alexis’ project for the exhibition is called Safe House Sarah. It features portraits of Sarah Baartman, an African woman who was used as a freak show attraction in 19th century Europe.

She was on the show due to her body type, which had high levels of tissue in her buttocks and thighs.

Sade Alexis’ Safe Home Sarah project is presented here at the Richmond Cultural Centre. (The City of Richmond)

Alexis said researching Baartman’s story filled her with sadness. She wanted to honor him with kindness, as other Baartman visuals focused on his body as a spectacle, she said.

Baartman is accompanied by portraits of other notable black women: writers Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, and musician Nina Simone.

“I feel protected and supported by them, even though they didn’t know me,” Alexis said. “I’m really inspired by them.”

An artist talk presented by the Richmond Art Gallery Association featuring Alexis will take place on the night of February 24 where she will explain her artistic process.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(Radio Canada)

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