Fall 2015 Newsletter: Out There in the Streets

Marlon Griffith
Symbols of Endurance

23 September – 6 December 2015
Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 23, 6 – 9 pm

Symbols of Endurance is the first solo exhibition in Canada by Japan-based Trinidadian artist Marlon Griffith. Beginning his career as a “Mas man,” Marlon’s current work derives its form—and to an extent its process—from performative, participatory, and ephemeral characteristics derived from Carnival. His work is based upon a reciprocal dialogue between “Mas” (the artistic component of the Trinidad Carnival) and socially-engaged contemporary art practice as a means to investigate the phenomenological aspect of embodied experience while interrogating contemporary visual culture outside the traditional pitfalls of representation. Often taking shape as processions, Marlon’s performative actions are stripped down to their basic form and abstracted into new ritual dramas. These processions, which have taken place all over the world, construct alternative narratives that respond critically and poetically to the local socio-cultural environment in which they are staged. Indeed they become symbols that endure in the imagination of participants and spectators long after the projects are finished.

Ring of Fire, Griffith’s procession for Toronto, which took place August 9, 2015, down University Avenue from Queen’s Park to City Hall, was a potent symbol of cultures and traditions mixing: a new ritual for a cosmopolitan future. Departing from the function that other festive parades and processions have held for this city—for instance on St. Patrick’s Day or at Caribana—in ensuring the cultural “presence” of a particular identity group within the social and political landscape of Toronto, Ring of Fire performed a different kind of reversal though equally resistant to the status quo. Griffith’s procession collaboratively brought together disability dancers from Picasso PRO and Equal Grounds, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, members of Toronto’s Capoeira Angola community, young spoken word poets from Jane-Finch, Malvern, and Regent Park, and members of the general public in a moving display of a collective becoming singular: a symbol of endurance directed at a future time-sense of this city. Understood in this context, Ring of Fire was both an ordinary and exceptional instance of Toronto-ness.

Processions have a long history all over the world from courtly celebrations, to funerary rites, to protest and marches, to—in the Americas—performative forms of colonial cultural resistance. They are imaginative forms built out of existing social materials that constitute new public display practices that we must learn from when considering the function of an exhibition and the role that galleries might play in the civic and symbolic life of the city. But how does one capture the essence of a procession as a gallery installation or reveal a participatory working process in an otherwise “static” exhibition situation—as if the process is complete and our involvement in it closed: as if we’ve stopped moving forward as in a procession? In a sense, the behind-the-scenes process and the final processional form is always a rehearsal—for the creation of new social relations for the former, and for new ways of participating in the civic life of one’s city, for the latter. Thus, it is the materiality of those social relations and their attendant symbols that emerge and endure in this exhibition and, through it, draw new individuals into the Ring of Fire’s rehearsal process.

It is through the repetition of the processional form that innovation in the rituals of urban life may be newly constituted. Bringing together elements from the actual procession (costumes, spoken word poetry, placards, etc), alongside Griffith’s original sketches, source material, technical drawings, and maquettes, this exhibition traces the two-year trajectory of Ring of Fire. It narrates its dynamic origins as a collaborative (and very much handmade, grassroots) cultural manifestation. As a multi-sensorial and immersive installation, Symbols of Endurance is to be felt and embodied; whether contemplated or even contested as a cosmopolitan idea or ideal, it certainly points to the procession as a form to be repeated, over and over again toward innovative effect and the creation of mixed cultural compositions or new forms of collaborative aesthetics.

Abstracted from the “living line” of bodies collectively taking to the streets this past summer, the exhibition provides a possible path for Toronton-ians to contemplate a new social and cultural terrain for their city. We wonder: How have past performative forms of colonial cultural resistance developed in the Americas evolved today? And, what could this mean for developing new performance methodologies of solidarity in the context of a culturally mixed Toronto for the future?

Symbols of Endurance and Ring of Fire are curated by AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur.

A monograph on Marlon Griffith will be released in 2016, generously supported by the Partners in Art.

Get on the Performance Bus!

Talk about symbols of endurance! AGYU celebrates twelve years of The Performance Bus! With the space it creates for collective sociality, “set apart” from the otherwise mundane mode of arriving an exhibition opening, The Performance Bus almost constitutes its own festive form of ritual performance, no? And what better way to celebrate than with one of Toronto’s most celebrated artists, Camille Turner, who hosts this edition with her charismatic candor and cheeky cosmopolitan charm.

The free Performance Bus departs OCADU (100 McCaul St.) on Wednesday, September 23, at 6 pm sharp en route to Marlon Griffith’s exhibition opening and returns downtown at 9 pm.

Camille Turner is a media/performance artist and educator. She is the founder of Outerregion, a company producing intercultural exchanges and dialogue. Camille’s interventions, installations, and public engagements have been presented throughout Canada and internationally. She teaches Art, Culture, and Community in the New One program at University of Toronto and creates experiential learning tools and workshops for educators.

AGYU Vitrines

Alejandro Tamayo is creating something out of thin air. Literally. Making the invisible qualities of the space visible, Alejandro monitors each vitrine with an electronic ambient thermometer that displays the rise and fall of the heat captured within the enclosure. This minimal gesture revealed only by a fluctuation in the numeric digital display challenges the interpretation of the ordinary, pointing to the everyday unseen changes in our environment.

Alejandro Tamayo is a PhD candidate in Visual Arts at the York University. He holds an MFA from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia, and a BEng. (Production Engineering) from EAFIT University, Medellín, Colombia.

Contemporary Art Bus

Sunday, 27 September 2015, 12 – 5 pm

Tour starts at the Koffler Centre of the Arts at Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw Street) and then departs for Blackwood Gallery, AGYU, and Doris McCarthy Gallery, returning to Shaw Street at 5 pm. Seating is limited. Please RSVP by Friday, 25 September: dmg@utsc.utoronto.ca or 416.287.7007.


Ring Of Fire’s red-hot embers

This past summer was cray-cray! We organized, created, produced, and performed the largest-ever street procession by artist Marlon Griffith and AGYU’s most complex, socially-engaged participatory project to date: a project we have been working on for the past two years. We are still recovering, and, as usual, suffering from a little post-partum depression now that the project is finished. Through this project, AGYU forged some important relationships with a host of community arts organizations from across the Greater Toronto Area including SKETCH and Art Starts as well as service organizations such as The Malvern S.P.O.T. and Community Living Toronto, and extended our networks beyond our neighbourhood of Jane-Finch. We have learned A TON through these partnerships and gained invaluable new relationships that have had a profound impact on the continued social transformation of the AGYU. Mixing generations, cultures, modes of artistic expression, and now also working strategies and techniques (such as participatory art and community art practices, for instance) is never straightforward: at times it is problematic, and always a challenge that redefines what it means to succeed. This was a crucial risk worth taking and the rewards have reverberated like those talented word warriors we worked with for the past year (see Reverb below). Ring of Fire was not only inspired by the Anishinaabe Seven Grandfather Teachings of wisdom, courage, respect, humility, honesty, truth, and love, these teaching were also put into practice as values for socially engaged art here in Toronto.

Over the course of this project, we collaboratively conceived and delivered over 100 workshops with multi-generational participants in visual art, music, dance, spoken word, and fashion, which have generated relationships between diverse neighbourhoods across the GTA, forged new partnerships among organizations, and expanded the social networks of many individuals: young spoken word poets from Malvern, Jane-Finch, and Regent Park not only got to know each other but also youth from Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, for instance. For the first time their poetry was interpreted for publics using ASL. Through Griffith’s unique working practice, young designers as well as sculpture students at York University re-imagined fashion as socially-based wearable art works. New kinds of costume forms considered mobility and other assistive devices as sources of inspiration and as vehicles for social awareness of how “normative” mainstream art production can be. An artist-in-residence became a model for a way of working with youth at community arts organizations (Art Starts in June and SKETCH in July) and the brokering of different viewpoints, perspectives, and forms of cultural production helped shape how we at AGYU conceived of our artist-in-residence program, now as a means for developing new social relations with the people of Toronto, not just furthering the disciplinary knowledge of contemporary art practices. AGYU forged an important new relationship with York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design by collaborating for the first time on their Louis Odette Sculptor-in-Residence Program (May) with work produced during it being shown in the current exhibition at AGYU. By working with partners such as Equal Grounds and Picasso PRO, and under their generous and supportive guidance, all arts organizations involved in this project learned first hand how to be better cultural workers, armed with the knowledge that inclusivity takes time, careful listening, an open mind and heart, and strong convictions. We’ve learned not to be afraid to ask tough questions, to make mistakes, and to embark on new ways of working that push at the boundaries of our own comfort levels and that expand our somewhat insular artistic milieus. The challenge now: how to put this knowledge at the forefront of the AGYU’s institutional ethos, to change our own working strategies in innovative ways that push contemporary art practices into new directions, and shift comfortable notions of what constitutes a possible path toward new forms of socially engaged curatorial practices? Remember: out there is not about distance, it’s an operative concept of difference that is always differing from itself.

Reverb: Rhythms of Poetry
Out There… in Jane-Finch, Malvern, and Regent Park

The AGYU organized three outstanding poetry events showcasing some of the most promising young spoken word artists from Regent Park, Jane-Finch, and Malvern. Events took place in February, March, and May 2015 at the Centre for Social Innovation in Regent Park, York Woods Public Library, and Burrows Hall Community Centre. MC’d by our lead artists Britta Badour, Jordon Veira, and David Delisca, each event was an opportunity for youth to showcase their artistry, allowing them to engage new audiences and connect with emerging artists from different neighbourhoods. The events were also a creative platform for workshop participants from our year-long Reverb spoken word poetry program, giving many young poets their first opportunity to perform before a live audience. Each event was preceded by a networking activity for emerging poets, which allowed youth from Malvern, Regent Park, and Jane-Finch to come together for the first time to socialize and build inter-community solidarity.

Leading up to the procession our junior artists met with Marlon Griffith to share their poetry and to get a sneak peek at Griffith’s drawing designs for their procession costumes. They also participated in a number of mask-making, movement, and music workshops at Art Starts and SKETCH in June and July, meeting with and collaborating with artists and members of SKETCH, Art Starts, Escola de Capuêra Angola, Picasso PRO, Equal Grounds, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

Performing as orators, eight of our artist-facilitators from the Reverb spoken word poetry program were featured in the Ring of Fire procession along University Avenue culminating in Nathan Phillips Square. Performing poetry inspired by the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe people, the orators accompanied the lead Sentinels of Griffith’s procession, forming part of seven dynamic entourages made up of members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Art Starts, SKETCH, mixed-abilities dancers from Picasso PRO and Equal Grounds, Capoeira practioners, and the general public. Wearing custom-made costumes, each different, the orators performed powerful poetry exploring the Anishinaabe ethical tenets of Wisdom, Truth, Love, Courage, Honesty, Respect, and Humility.

AGYU @ Pride 2015

From 26 – 28 June 2015, AGYU came OUTTHERE (again) to play with Pride Toronto. With a bomb of glitter and confetti, Nadijah Robinson brought all the glitz and extravagance of a ball to the politics of queer visibility and representation. Wearing sashes and gowns, we fearlessly marched, asserting the voice of Black Trans Women in the diverse LGBTQ+ communities at York and the surrounding area. Through a series of conversations and interviews with key members of the York LGBTQ+ communities, Nadijah was able to translate their oral histories into the #FearlesslyFierce and #EmbraceYU campaigns that focused on education, healing, and celebration. Working alongside The Centre for Women and Trans People (CWTP), Trans, Bi, Lesbian, Gay Alliance at York (TBLGAY), York Federation of Students (YFS), Centre for Human Rights (CHR) and the SexGen York Committee, AGYU braved the crowds at the Street Fair from Saturday, 27 June to Sunday, 28 June and waved the rainbow flag proudly at the Trans March, Dyke March, and Pride Parade on Church Street. Together we showcased the acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity that York promotes while paying tribute to #BlackTransLivesMatter.

Nadijah Robinson received her BFA from the Unversity of Ottawa in 2010 and has recently shown work at the Gladstone Hotel, Nia Centre for the Arts, and completed a large-scale public mural in the heart of the Church Street Village.

A Night of Legends!

AGYU would like to thank all of the members of the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance (TKBA) for coming out to the 3rd Annual Kiki Awards Ball held in conjunction with the opening of Rashaad Newsome’s exhibition Silence Please, The Show is About to Begin and held at the Underground in the York University Student Centre.

DJ John Caffrey spun all night long as the MCs Legendary Twysted Pink Lady and Legend TravoyintheFlesh TKBA Chair Father Tko Old Navy kept the crowd jumping. Guest judges Rashaad Newsome and Suzanne Carte were tasked with the difficult job of considering all the fabulous gurls that walked that night for the prestigious prizes. With social media as the theme, we awarded 10 “selfie-stick” trophies to categories such as Runway, Realness, Sex Siren, and Best Dressed. TKBA awarded all of the stars with OTY mirrored plaques acknowledging a year of hard work and commitment.

The biggest honour of the night went to the new inductees to Toronto’s Legendary status, new Legends Venus Monroe and Vixen Old Navy. These titles are earned through years of dedicated work and major accomplishments. Congrats to all the winners! We would also like to thank the Hassle Free Clinic for offering free anonymous HIV testing provided by the Black Coalition for aids Prevention (BlackCAP) #KnowYourStatus.


At the very tail end of the 2015 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, we found ourselves at the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Queen Street West. Over the din of the eager audience, we could hear snippets of Charles Ives from the backroom cinema and, from the street, the occasional chirp of a passing bird. We were there, of course, to launch Sara Angelucci: Provenance Unknown, the catalogue documenting her exhibition held as part of the 2013 iteration of CONTACT.

Including texts by Emelie Chhangur, Claude Baillargeon, and E.C. Woodley, the publication presents readers with the extended context of Angelucci’s work, and a full portfolio of the Aviary series makes it that much better. We’d like to thank Zab Design & Typography for some fantastic design work (and, of course, Sara, for her fantastic work).

If you were unable to join us for the launch, you can always get a copy in our bookshop, or through our website.

Art Gallery of York University, 2015

6×8 in, 108 pp, 42 col, smyth-sewn softcover

ISBN 978-0-921972-69-3


Meanwhile, the first results from our collaboration with Black Dog Publishing of the UK are on their way. Imaginary Homelands, the bilingual Spanish/English catalogue of the exhibition of the same name, should soon be on our bookshelves (and on bookshelves across the world). The exhibition was the culmination of several years of residencies by young Colombian artists, and this book is the culmination of the project. Designed by Lisa Kiss Design, it includes an extensive speculative text on the formation of the project by Emelie Chhangur as well as more expository descriptions of the work in the exhibition and, to bring the artists into the frame once more, interviews with each participant conducted by York University professor Emiro Martínez-Osorio.

That’s not the only book that will come from our co-publishing experiment, however. Also in the works is the much-anticipated book on the Toronto art scene from the late 1970s by Philip Monk.Covering much more of the territory than the Is Toronto Burning? exhibition of last year, this book is going to be a vital contribution to the ongoing project of recording the history of contemporary art in Toronto … and beyond.


AGYU Award Winners 2015

The AGYU gave out two awards April 15 at Luculence, the Visual Arts Open House: a cash award of $250 and an award of AGYU publications of comparable value. Philip Monk and Emelie Chhangur awarded Maxine Veneracion one prize for her video Still Life in Motion, commending it for translating old subjects into new forms, old technologies into new ones, and animating old paintings in a witty way through stop action animation. From the memento mori of vanitas painting we went to the mourning books of Victoria Bacnis, who received an award for her series of books, Still Mourning. Her works were commended for treating mourning and commemoration in a simple yet sophisticated and moving way, and for using the intimate form of a book to deal with narratives of personal significance.

AGYU’s (New) Curatorial Intensive

AGYU’s latest project uses curating as a form of experiential learning. Developed in collaboration with York’s Art History Department, the intensive culminates each year in two Gales Gallery exhibitions curated by graduate students. Under the tutorship this year of Philip Monk and Allyson Adley, Megan Toye and Vanessa Nicolas respectively will curate an exhibition of work of MFA/PhD students in Visual Arts and an exhibition based on York University’s Art Collection. Nicolas’ exhibition takes place January 8 – 29, 2016 and Toye’s May 2 – 13. The program has been organized in partnership with professors Sarah Parsons and Jennifer Fisher of the Department of Visual Art & Art History and each student receives a course credit for the intensive.

Curatorial Resident: Johnson Ngo

AGYU is thrilled to be working with emerging curator and artist Johnson Ngo! Since June 2015 AGYU staff has been mentoring Johnson as part of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries’ (OAAG) Leadership and Cultural Pluralism Project. During our time together we have worked with Johnson in all aspects of gallery administration focusing in particular on the ways in which diversity can be accelerated in public gallery leadership. As our mentorship continues, we are re-thinking what it means to be “accessible” in the visual arts while exploring how pluralism can function within the framework of a gallery’s infrastructure (i.e., what a gallery is) and not just as autonomous programming (i.e., what a gallery does). Johnson’s mentorship culminates this February 2016 with the launch of CIA #3. OAAG program is intended to provide mentoring opportunities for culturally diverse arts professionals who see their career paths set to Director/CEO-level leadership positions in the Ontario public art gallery sector – so watch out art world, here comes Johnson Ngo!

Art Toronto

October 23 – 26
Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Once again, AGYU has joined with Art Toronto in a cultural partnership. Visit Art Toronto website for details.

Karen Pellegrino Retires!

I’m sure that she is happy, but we are devastated: Karen Pellegrino has retired after nineteen years at the AGYU! In that length of time, one becomes the foundation of the institution. But before arriving as Administrative Assistant at the AGYU, Karen had already worked at York for two years in Human Resources, the Mathematics Department, and Bethune College. Arriving, she was immediately thrown into one of the AGYU’s most arduous, complicated—yet exciting—projects: the organization of Rodney Graham’s participation as Canada’s representative at the prestigious Venice Biennale. And the excitement never stopped, what with multiple exhibitions of unpredictable contemporary art every year and different artists always coming in and out the door. In many ways Karen was our greeter, and she was ever on the front line. She made many friends across campus and lots knew her when they were welcomed back by her at our openings. Many student volunteers will fondly remember her mentorship and nurturing support, which was one of her irreplaceable contributions to the AGYU.

Upcoming 2016 Winter Exhibition

Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA) #3: Reena Katz, Greg Staats, Syrus Marcus Ware




Art Gallery of York University
Keele Campus, Accolade East Building
Toronto Ontario  M3J 1P3

Staff directory


Monday to Friday: 10 am to 5 pm
please note: the gallery spaces are currently closed for construction of our new building

Always free


Click here for a map

Visual story visitor guide

Nearest TTC Wheel-Trans stop is York University Subway (north entrance)