The cotton industry advanced climate change, widened global income disparity and commercialized the oppression of marginalized communities. Lives were irrevocably changed by these effects. History Is Rarely Black or White focuses on people groups brought forcibly to North America through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as well as their descendants in the United States and Canada.
The exhibition interrogates cotton garments in the Queen’s Collection of Canadian Dress through archival research and scientific analysis that connects these materials to resource extraction, Indigenous displacement, enslaved labour, and the Underground Railroad. This history is also shown through tintypes and artifacts.
History Is Rarely Black or White engages contemporary art and fashion to examine colonial history and envision a radically positive future. Artists Karin Jones, Gordon Shadrach, and Damian Jöel demonstrate the manner in which the burden of colonial history entwines itself in research, making and cultural heritage. Jones and Shadrach discuss the ongoing legacies of oppression that created the global cotton industry. Joel mines the history of enslavement, migration and making in his fashion story, Songs of the Gullah. The inclusion of his work brings the exhibition full circle by juxtaposing the collections at Agnes with contemporary pieces based on similar networks of relation.
Hero images, From left to right: Waistcoat, around 1792–1820, satin, cotton and gold thread; INTRO X DJ, Songs of the Gullah Campaign Image, 2020. Courtesy of the artist; Gordon Shadrach, Written in Stone, 2017, acrylic on wood. Courtesy of the artist