History Is Rarely Black or White Speaker Series

3 December 2021, 14 January and 11 February 2022
1–2:30 (ET)

An online speaker series on topics connected to the exhibition History Is Rarely Black or White.

Join Curator Jason Cyrus and special guests for this online series of talks on topics connected to the exhibition History Is Rarely Black or White.

This program is supported by the David and Patti Bain Memorial Fund and the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

3 DECEMBER 2021, 1–2:30 (ET)

Black Bodies, White Gold: Unpacking slavery and North American cotton production with Anna Arabindan-Kesson and Anne-Marie Guérin

The global thirst for cotton was fueled by the atrocities of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Anna Arabindan Kesson will join History Is Rarely Black or White curator Jason Cyrus and conservator Anne-Marie Guérin to discuss the ways in which they harnessed science, conservation, and historical research to spotlight the Black life at the core of the Victorian cotton industry.

14 JANUARY 2022, 1–2:30 (ET)

Fully Known: Cotton Production, Black History, and the Canadian Experience with Charmaine Nelson and Shannon Prince
Charmaine Nelson and Shannon Prince join Jason Cyrus to investigate the ways in which cotton production in the United States forever changed the landscape of Canadian diversity. Together they tell the stories of Black people on both sides of the border by connecting the Victorian cotton industry with the Underground Railroad and settlement in Canada while addressing the related colonial legacies that still affect Black Canadian life today.

11 FEBRUARY 2022, 1–2:30 (ET)

Style as Armour: Identity, Clothing, and Self-Fashioning in History Is Rarely Black or White with Julie Crooks and Nigel Lezama

Julie Crooks and Nigel Lezama join Jason Cyrus to explore the use of style to both affirm one’s personhood and challenge oppression. Together they examine archival tintypes, contemporary portraiture, and Victorian cotton clothing to shine a light on clothing’s important role in constructing Black identity.

Jason Cyrus analyzes fashion and textile history to explore questions of identity, cultural exchange and agency. He is the 2021 Isabel Bader Fellow in Textile Conservation and Research at the Agnes Etherington Centre, Queens University. This October he will present his research in History Is Rarely Black or White, an exhibition exploring Victorian cotton, slavery, and its ongoing legacies.

Cyrus has a Master’s Degree in Art History and Curatorial Studies from York University and starts his PhD in the History of Art at Warwick University in October 2021. He has held research posts at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. In January 2020, he curated York University’s first fashion exhibition, ReFraming Gender.

Cyrus currently lives on land that has been the home of numerous Indigenous Nations, including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabek, and most recently the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Anne-Marie Guérin is an art conservator with a master’s degree in art conservation from Queen’s University (MAC 16). She has worked for several heritage and art institutions including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the Canadian Conservation Institute. The interdisciplinary and collaborative aspects of art conservation initially drew Anne-Marie to conservation and are what continues to inform her approach to objects, belongings, and Ancestors currently residing in museums and galleries. Her main interests involve using art conservation, scientific analysis, and historical research to assist in the telling of stories aimed at decolonization.

Anna Arabindan-Kesson is an assistant professor of African American and Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Archaeology and is a faculty fellow at Princeton University. Born in Sri Lanka, she completed undergraduate degrees in New Zealand and Australia and worked as a Registered Nurse in the UK before completing her PhD in African American Studies and Art History at Yale University.

Charmaine A. Nelson is a Canadian Professor of Art History and Tier I CRC in Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement. Nelson taught at McGill University from 2003 to 2020 before joining NSCAD University to develop the Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery. She is the first tenured Black professor of art history in Canada. Nelson’s research interests include the visual culture of slavery, race and representation, Black Canadian studies and African Canadian Art History as well as critical theory, post-colonial studies, Black feminist scholarship, Transatlantic Slavery Studies and Black Diaspora Studies. The author of 7 books, Nelson has given over 260 lectures and talks across Canada and the USA, Mexico, Europe, and the Caribbean.

Shannon Prince is the Curator of the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. She is also a Storyteller and participant in historical re-enactments which brings the history of Buxton and the Underground Railroad to life for many groups both here and further afield. Prince is a descendant of the early fugitive families that came to Canada for freedom and opportunity. As such, she brings insight and respect and a love for this chapter in our heritage.

Julie Crooks is Curator, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Prior to joining the AGO in 2017, Crooks curated exhibitions for many organizations including BAND (Black Artists Networks in Dialogue) and the Royal Ontario Museum’s Of Africa project. She holds a PhD from the Department of History of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, U.K. Crooks’s area of specialty is vernacular photography of West Africa and the diaspora.

Nigel Lezama is an associate professor in the Modern Languages, Literatures & Cultures department of Brock University. Examining how marginalized and peripheral fashion and luxury practices transform dominant culture, Lezama works at the intersection of fashion, luxury, literary, and cultural studies. His co-edited volume, Canadian Critical Luxury Studies. Decentring Luxury, will be published by Intellect Books in 2021.

Speaker Biographies

Portrait of Jason Cyrus

Portrait of Jason Cyrus

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Image Credits

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