Exhibition explores Michael Chambers' 25-year artistic journey
July 13, 2017
When Pamela Edmonds applied two years ago to the Thames Art Gallery to present an exhibition exploring Michael Chambers’ 25-year artistic journey, she had no idea that it would be her first show as the Chatham-Kent gallery’s new curator.
‘Shadows to Silver: A Retrospective’ features images selected from the early 1990s, bringing together some of Chambers’ most iconic works, including ‘Watermelon’ and ‘Bullseye’ which triggered heated debate and controversy for their associations with the varied histories of oppression, struggle and shame.
The exhibition, which opened last Friday, runs until September 3.
“There had been a retrospective of Michael’s work back in 1998 and I thought now would be a good time to do another exhibit,” said Edmonds whose primary focus is on thematic exhibitions that explore the politics of representation as they relate to issues of race, gender and national identity. “He is an artist who has really been at the forefront in ideas around Black representation and the body and someone who I think hasn’t really been critically engaged with. I thought this would be a great time to look at his work in Chatham which is a historically Black community and one of the cornerstones for Black liberation.”
Edmonds and Chambers have been working on the project for the last two years.
“Michael was in one of the first exhibitions I curated back in 2001,” said the visual and media arts curator who is a co-founder of Third Space Art Projects which is a curatorial collective for the promotion and presentation of multidisciplinary art projects that explore transculturalism with a particular focus on visual cultures of the Black Atlantic. “I, however, really started paying attention to his work after the controversy surrounding some of his body images. He was at the top of my list of artists that I am interested in collaborating with because of his kind of ‘no holds barred’ way of approaching and documenting how the Black body is misrepresented within visual art and the media.”
Chambers’ rich and expressive practice is represented by photographic work surveying diverse representations of the human form. Best known for his striking black and white portraits emphasizing the power and beauty of the nude Black body, this solo retrospective exhibition is the most comprehensive ever devoted to the artist’s activist practice.
More than a mere celebration of beauty, Chambers’ black and white photographs present images in which Black cultural memory is physically inscribed on the body. His photographs also present an awareness of the performativity of constructing an image and the complex ways in which the camera operates in contemporary culture. His images displace the conventions of advertising photography, negotiating a delicate balance between the political demands of making the Black body visible and desirable as well as subverting norms expressed by the fashion and beauty industry.
“The Thames Art Gallery was very receptive on bringing something different to this area,” said Chambers. “It is my hope that this show will go on tour with this being the first stop.”
The 2010 Harry Jerome Award winner said his passion for the arts started in junior school in Jamaica.
“By the time I got to high school, I was doing creative pieces that were published and televised,” said Chambers who completed high school in the Greater Toronto Area and an undergraduate fine arts degree with honours at York University in 1983.
The art gallery will also screen Anton Wagner’s 1997 documentary, ‘The Photographer: An Artist’s Journey’, which follows Chambers with his models on photo expeditions in Canada and Jamaica.
“This retrospective exhibition will allow visitors to understand my diverse output as a multifaceted whole, from the portraits of celebrated Canadian artists and musicians made during my tenure as a senior editor at Word magazine to rare coloured gum-bichromate prints and selections from a new series exploring African identity through Albinism,” said Chambers. “These captivating images also demonstrate a modernity that has ‘de-centred’ in a globalized age, evidenced through an evolving aesthetic of cross-culturalism highlighting subjects of many possible futures and fluid identities.”
Edmonds joined the southwestern Ontario art gallery last April.
“This is my first introduction to bringing my own perspectives to the work I want to do here,” she said. “I am interested in socially and politically engaged work that provokes dialogue. What better way to begin with than with this exhibition. For me, I think that is what art does best and that is part of what it should be. It is beautiful, but at the same time there is content there. Michael’s work is a good bridge that way in that he’s celebrating beauty while at the same time addressing what is happening in the world with Black violence. He is interested in people that defy categorization.”
Located at 75 William St. North, the Thames Gallery is open seven days a week from 1-5 p.m.