There is an art to Black History Month in Toronto

Dictator Wall - Power Plant. Omar Ba paintings

Putting Omar Ba up against a white wall.
By Stephen Weir

Up against the white wall by Stephen Weir
According to African painter Omar Ba, it doesn’t matter where young people are – Africa, Switzerland or even Toronto – they share the same dream, a deep-seated burning desire to freely travel the world.  Ba, a rising star in Senegal and Switzerland, opened his first Canadian solo exhibition entitled Same Dream at Harbourfront’s Power Plant art gallery on Friday night in front of a packed house.
 “Same Dream is the title of my exhibition and it is the name of one of the key paintings in my show,” Omar Ba said. “This idea came to me after an exhibition I did in Paris. I want to look at young people who long to go out and discover the world. When I am in my studio in Dakar, I hear young people say they want to see it all, and, I realize that that was I. In my painting (which hangs in the show) I am one of those young boys in the picture, look close and you will see the world map on their faces. This is my gift to the world.”
Be warned though that Ba’s works aren’t just about travel and adventure. Much of the large exhibition has very dark overtones, taken up with the urgent issues facing the African community— from the growing inequality of wealth and power across society to questions around immigration, post-colonial relations and the changing relationship to the natural world. He paints African dictators, despotic warlords who rule through corruption and violence. These cruel rulers are depicted as fantastical beasts, all but swallowed by the wild jungle.
Same Dream by Ba
Speaking in French through an English translator, the 46-year old artist explains that he wants to show the animal inside. “ It contradicts what we show on the outside,” he said. “It is all about power and dominance.”
Omar Ba was born in Senegal in 1977 and lives and works between his studios in Dakar and Genève.  When the Caribbean Camera asked him to pose for a picture – he laughed and said in broken English that he always paints on black canvases (“because Black is beautiful”) with white paint.  “Do you see the irony that now here you are, a white photographer, putting a black man in front of a very white wall!”
 Same Dream is one of two free TD Bank Black History Month sponsored art exhibitions at the lakeside Power Plant gallery. Also opened on Friday night was a solo exhibition of the work of Nashville artist Alicia Henry.  The 53-year old Nashville native’s show entitled Witnessing, showcases her unconventional portraits of West African masks and fellow African Americans created from felt, paper, canvas and other textiles register a spectrum of context and emotions.  
Both Ba and Henry’s free exhibitions will run until May. Their January opening party gave the Power Plant the jump on the Black History Month activities happening at Harbourfront in February. 
Witness wall by Henry
This weekend Harbourfront Centre is staging Kuumba – a three-day Black Liberation Symposium. The free programming is a series of conversations about “Love, Honesty and Healing in Black Communities in the 21st century”. As well, Harbourfront is hosting the Black Liberation Ball, Saturday, February 2,at the Longboat Hall, 1087 Queen St. West. This ballroom is a “celebration of Blackness” and serves as a stage, where music and dance performers from across North America will come together for one night!


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