Deanna Bowen:
Invisible Empires

16 January – 17 March 2013

Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires is a bold exhibition that presents a view on the Ku Klux Klan both during the American Civil Rights Movement era and its century-long history in Canada. The long-standing research stems from Toronto artist Deanna Bowen’s inquiry into her own ancestry of Black pioneers who emigrated from Oklahoma to northern Alberta in the early twentieth century, research that previously has formed the basis of her autobiographical approach. Her autobiographical approach and archival investigations, though, deviate in this exhibition. Documents no longer serve the purpose of memorializing a traumatic past experience by means of an empathetic act of witnessing in the present, working through the traumatic archives of memory. Instead she “crosses the line” into enemy territory by working with an “archive” of Klan material. In fact, she creates the archive, memorializing it to another purpose. In this endeavor, she, furthermore, “crosses the line” in what is expected or permitted of a Black artist by, in effect, reversing her area of concern from Black Studies to White Studies.

“Working through” takes on a whole new dimension when the archives that supposedly are memorialized are those of the KKK, and when these documents and scenarios are re-enacted. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a live theatrical, costumed re-enactment of a twenty-minute October 24, 1965, CBC television interview between Calvin Craig, Grand Dragon of the Georgia Realm of the United Klans of America and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; his fellow Klansman George Sleigh; Civil Rights activist Reverend James Bevel; and This Hour Has Seven Days host Robert Hoyt. The re-enactment takes place on a reconstructed This Hour Has Seven Days’ stage set, which houses a video projection of the performance during the exhibition.

The exhibition also includes photographic documentation of Canadian sites of Klan cross burnings, photographic documentation of Klan paraphernalia, as well as works from Bowen’s The Paul Good Papers, a project based in part on the archives of ABC news correspondent Paul Good, a veteran of Civil Rights reporting. The exhibition utilizes all sites of the AGYU, including the Vitrines and The Performance Bus.

The artist says of her artistic focus: “A project in mapping African diasporic movement and a genealogical investigation in equal measure, my autobiographical, process-driven interdisciplinary practice is concerned with the document and the act of witnessing. My practice revolves around the research and creation of conceptually rooted works that draw upon interrogations of personal and community-based genealogical research, local and international ‘domestic’ histories, American slavery, Migration and Diaspora studies, Trauma theory and corollary discussions of memory and testimony, Southern Gothic Literature, and contemporary debates about political/personal art production. My works are informed by theories related to the aestheticization of the ‘unspeakable’ as they contribute to my efforts to reconstitute the self/collective by artistically ‘working through’ familial and community silences.”

Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires is curated by AGYU Director Philip Monk

Deanna Bowen: Deanna Bowen is a descendant of the Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneers of Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. She is a Toronto based interdisciplinary artist whose work has been exhibited internationally in numerous film festivals and galleries. She has received several grants in support of her artistic practice. Current works have been shown at the Images Festival of Film, Video & New Media, the Art Gallery of Peterborough, and the Art Gallery of York University. Her commissioned eighteen minute performed oral history sum of the parts: what can be named has shown at the Kassel Documentary Film & Video Festival, the Oberhausen Film Festival, and the Nasher Museum of Contemporary Art at Duke University. “A project in mapping African diasporic movement and a genealogical investigation in equal measure, my autobiographical, process-driven interdisciplinary practice is concerned with the document and the act of witnessing. My practice revolves around the research and creation of conceptually rooted works that draw upon interrogations of personal and community based genealogical research, local and international ‘domestic’ histories, American slavery, Migration and Diaspora studies, Trauma theory and corollary discussions of memory and testimony, Southern Gothic Literature, and contemporary debates about political/personal art production. My works are informed by theories related to the aestheticization of the ‘unspeakable’ as they contribute to my efforts to reconstitute the self/collective by artistically ‘working through’ familial and community silences.”

Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires is generously sponsored by Partners in Art.

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