Reflections on the Ottawa TechWall, Sandra Bland, and Black Lives Matter

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I'm an artist. I dont claim to be an activist. When BlakColletiv took action and wrote #blacklivesmatter on the wall I wasn't there, except in spirit...the fallout was shocking to some, predictable to others, sad to many...you can (and should for the context of this note) read about it all here...I wont go into detail on it but my brother in art Allan Andre and I decided to paint this piece in response to that whole situation, to keep positivity flowing while redirecting the conversation back to the topic, but the whole thing has left a bad taste in many mouths, and there's still a lot left unsaid...so I'm just going to put this out there... these are just MY personal thoughts about the matter...

First off I'm glad people are digging the Sandra Bland mural, but the reality is I would have been happier if I never had to hear about her like this in the first place, and she was still alive on her path to fight against discrimination in the Southern states. Sandra Bland is only one of the latest, but the list of victims of this kind of violence is endless and continues to grow...not to take any of her/their humanity away or diminish the loss, but we have hundreds and hundreds of Sandra Blands...

Renisha Mcbride

Freddie Gray

Tanisha Anderson

Michael Brown

Walter Scott

Rekia Boyd

Tamir Rice

Eric Garner

Trayvon Martin

Jermaine Carby

The list can, and still does, go on and on, stretching back decades...each violent, senseless death seared into black conciousness and etched into collective memory, a pattern of assault and war against black bodies and lives that continues with little relative change...I still remember watching the news about Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and the sickness I felt hearing about Abner Louima, and that was when I was in my early-mid teens in the 90's...yet every day, every week, every month, year after year, the list grows and grows...its unacceptable and to be quite honest, intolerable at this point...the frustration is real.

Please understand how traumatic that is to one's psyche, and to a people...we carry that pain collectively because its not an isolated incident, it could be any one of us pulling out a wallet or phone, or or changing lanes without signalling, or walking down the street eating skittles and getting killed for it...these people died because of what they were, not who they were...when we say #blacklivesmatter this is what we're talking about...and I dont speak for the movement, this is just my experience...All thanks should go to Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi for putting this out there first...but All Black Lives Matter. Black Women's lives..Black Teenager's lives...Black Queer and Trans lives...Black Convict lives...they all matter and shouldn't be disposable.

The media does smear campaigns against black victims of violence to make their character seem questionable, and therefore their lives disposable and their deaths somewhat justifiable. Innocent people are dying, and they're looking for grey areas. We've seen this time and again...if you really don't know whats going on, then do some research, this isn't just about the police or an American problem, black people here in Canada are over-policed (have you read about carding in the GTA for example), over-represented in the prison system, discriminated against in schools and workplaces, misrepresented in the media...and even if it was only in America, injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere...this thing won't solve itself and the onus isnt on the victims alone to make the change...

If you're in a privileged enough position to feel like it isn't your problem, not knowing is one thing...but wilful ignorance is another. Hear Us! And decide which side of history you want to be on...and if you want to be an ally then listen, give room for people to speak, learn how not to prioritize your feelings over the bigger picture, don't dilute or distort the message, stand with us, speak out and take a stand of your own...because we shouldn't always have to instigate these things...silence is compliance...Members of Parliament and the Canadian government which has such intimate ties to the US could also take a stand against what is essentially a Human Rights issue...this is a grassroots movement but the change needed is systemic.

With that said, I thank those people who have shown what real allyship can look like ...bloggers, people on instagram and social media who are openly discussing these things...who commented on their own about the #blacklivesmatter statement on the wall being erased and denounced the degrading messages that went along with it, and artists who used their art to cover up the resulting poorly thought out response, sending messages in support and hanging out while we painted, letting us know all people in the graff community didnt feel the same way and that we were welcome...because TechWall is more than the chill spot for the few...its a platform, and a public one at that..and having a platform is a privilege...so to those allies I mentioned and others, keep setting an example by using your relative power/privilege/platform in solidarity with the people.

Photo at TechWall by Donald K Demarco
 instagram @mondomedeusah

And of course I have to thank the Ottawa BlakCollectiv, because whether people liked it or not, your art and statement were powerful and disruptive, people took notice and the conversation is happening. I'm making this blogpost public, and it would be niave to think everybody reading this will be supportive...after all, thats why I'm writing this in the first place....to those folks, if you've managed to get this far I say again, choose what side of history you want to be on...because this is not stopping til the killing stops.

Rest in Power Sandra Bland and all the people taken unjustly before their time.
#blacklivesmatter

psst....

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ART BATTLE NATIONAL FINALS

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Wow well after a whirlwind season it looks like I'm a finalist in the Art Battle National Championship in Ottawa! I'm really looking forward to painting alongside the countries best live painters, and possibly even winning a shot at painting at the Pan-Am games! The previous 3-time champion is also a fellow Ethiopian artist, whose work is absolutely amazing! Definitely check him out, his name is Yared Nigussu 

Have Fingers Will Travel- Oliver Jones Tribute Exhibition

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Oliver Jones is a jazz legend! The Montreal-born pianist is being honoured, and deservedly so...with a career that spans over 60 years, he helped put the Little Burgandy neighbourhood where he grew up on the map as a hotbed of jazz musicianship. I was invited along with a handful of other artists to create a piece in honour of his great career and contribution to Black Canadian history. The exhibition will be at Place Des Arts in Montreal and opens April 3- May 4. For more info check out the official website!

UPDATE April 6, 2015

The exhibition opened up and it was absolutely fantastic. Mr. Jones was in attendance and blessed us with some words...there were many standout pieces including work by Montreal's own Kosisochukwu Nnebe and Maliciouz...click here to check out some photos from the evening...Many thanks to Le Mois de l'Histoire des Noirs staff and everybody who attended, and of course Mr. Oliver Jones himself for his inspiration and legacy!

Jazz legend Mr. Oliver Jones viewing my piece honouring him!

BHM 2015: Birds of a Feather

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Curator-in-Residence of the Fritzi Gallery, Malika Welsh, welcomes artists and the public to the opening of Birds of a Feather on January 22, 2015 at 6pm. This exhibition, in collaboration with TD Canada Trust and BAND Gallery, runs at the Lorraine Yale ‘Fritzi’ Gallery at 1233 Wellington West, 2nd floor, from January 20, 2015 to March 8, 2015. Vernissage Thursday, January 22 2015 from 6 to 8 pm

The ‘Fritzi’ Gallery celebrates Black History Month with an intriguing look into the experiences, cultures and collaborations that shape who we are. This exhibition brings together a number of Ottawa artists to celebrate our cultural and social commonalities.

   "Although we may be of different colour, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, we are all “minorities". We all have experienced similar struggles and worked to overcome them in similar ways,” says Malika Welsh, the gallery’s Curator-in-Residence. “I invite you to explore what it means to be considered a “minority” in 2015 through these paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and photography.”

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The Fritzi Gallery is located on the second floor of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre.
1233 Wellington Street West (at Holland Ave)
Follow us on Twitter @Fritzi_Gallery
Friend us on Facebook: The Lorraine Fritzi Yale Gallery
For more information contact:
Curator-in-Residence