BLACK DRONES IN THE HIVE at the Kamloops Art Gallery
- Presented By: Kamloops Art Gallery
- Dates: September 23-30 2023
- Recurrence: Recurring weekly on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
- Location: Kamloops Art Gallery
- Address: 465 Victoria St., Kamloops, BC
- Time: Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 5:00 pm | Thursday 10 am to 8:00 pm
- Price: Price: Members, Students & Children FREE; Adults $5; Families $10; Seniors (ages 62+) $3; Groups of 10 or more $3. FREE admission Thursdays sponsored by BCLC.
Curated by Crystal Mowry, Director of Programs, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan
For more than 20 years, Deanna Bowen’s practice has evolved from its roots in experimental documentary video into a complex mapping of power as seen in public and private archives. Research and exhibitions are rarely mutually exclusive modes for Bowen, in part because her subjects reveal new perspectives over time. Whether it is through strategies of re-enactment or dense constellations of archival material, Bowen’s work traces her familial history within a broader narrative of Black survival in Canada and the United States.
Originally produced by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in 2020, Black Drones in the Hive unfolds in a series of visual chapters to reveal the strategic erasures which have enabled Canadian canons (such as those extended by the Group of Seven) to exist without question or complication. The exhibition draws its title from a racist assessment of William Robinson, a Black journeyman described as “a black drone in the hive,” as written by a city official in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario in the records of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869‒1950). This sentiment echoes the centuries-long project of devaluing Black labour and the promise of autonomy. Combing historical texts, petitions, and archives ranging from the local to the international, Bowen weaves together narrative threads of migration, power networks, and hierarchies of remembrance.
In Black Drones in the Hive, Bowen contends with what W.E.B. Du Bois described as “double consciousness” – the notion that to be Black is to live with the conflict of seeing yourself represented by White authors while profoundly recognizing the limits of such representation. This conflict is most resonant when confronting The Death of Uncle Tom, an oversized reproduction of a postcard depicting a tableau from a dramatic staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the wildly successful novel that was credited as a catalyst for the abolition of slavery in the United States. It is a not-so subtle nod to the White saviourism that haunts the publishing of Black narratives, a concern to which Bowen is heavily attuned. In gathering related ephemera including commemorative plates and subsequent publications of contextual information, Bowen points beyond the desire to possess a snapshot of history to a more complicated geometry whereby the promise of freedom is bound up in notions of service and faith.
In Bowen’s canon-breaking work “1911 Anti Creek-Negro Petition,” 2013, the forces that shape the public record exist not only in the margins but in the laws intended to uphold power networks and protect privilege. The work reproduces an anti-Black and anti-Indigenous artefact of Canadian history comprised of over 200 unique pages photomechanically reproduced from microfiche at Library and Archives Canada. The original petition that Bowen references was framed as an ultimatum to the federal government: prohibit Black/Muskogee Creek people from moving north across the border from the United States to western Canada or risk mob violence. Bowen’s ancestors were among those early Black settlers who fled racial violence and segregationist laws before eventually settling in Amber Valley, Alberta. It is worth noting that this petition prompted the signing of the Order-in-Council P.C. 1324, a proposed prohibition on Black immigrants on the basis that they were “deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.” This myth of the Black body lacking the fortitude to survive in a northern landscape is the afterlife of various dispossession/exile loops that played out as free Black settlements were founded and erased across Canada. “1911 Anti Creek-Negro Petition” is a significant excavation not only for its catalytic presence in Bowen’s oeuvre, but for how it recasts the colonial Terra Nullius fantasy perpetuated by the Group of Seven and their associates.
At the dawn of the 20th century, settlement—as both an encampment and a form of resolve—takes on different implications for Black, Indigenous, and European communities living in Canada. With Black Drones in the Hive Bowen examines how dispossession and renaming—acts that are inscribed on both the land and public record—are part of power’s syntax. In a moment when we are spurred to redefine civic duty and rethink monuments, Bowen’s exhibition illuminates the roots of a reckoning.
Deanna Bowen is the descendant of two Black pioneer families who moved from Alabama and Kentucky to settle in Amber Valley and Campsie on the Alberta prairie. Born in 1969 in Oakland, California, the artist currently divides her time between Toronto and Montréal.
Through a repertoire of artistic gestures, Bowen’s work defines the Black body, tracing its presence and movement in time and place. Since the early 1990s, the core of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary practice has been her family history. In recent years, she has focused on a close examination of her family’s migration and their connections to Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley and Black Strathcona, the “All-Black” towns of Oklahoma, the Exoduster migration and the Ku Klux Klan.
Bowen has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Scotiabank Photography Award, 2021, a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, 2020, a Guggenheim Fellowship, 2016, and the William H. Johnson Prize,2014. Previous exhibitions include The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin, 2020, and God of Gods: A Canadian Play, 2019. Her writing, interviews and art have been featured in Canadian Art, The Capilano Review, and The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology and Transition Magazine. She was also editor of the 2019 anthology Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada.
Organized by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, circulated in partnership with the MacKenzie Art Gallery, and produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council.