Published on April 28, 2022
Roots by Toronto-artist Sandra Brewster explores the long history of Black presence in urban wilderness – on display starting May 1, 2022
TORONTO, ONTARIO (April 28, 2022) – A new outdoor photographic installation entitled Roots, 2021–2022 by Toronto-based artist Sandra Brewster brings together art, urban exploration, and Toronto’s Black histories and diasporas, highlighting the necessity of establishing safe outdoor spaces in order to gather and build communities. Part of Evergreen’s Public Art Program and developed during her tenure as Koerner Artist in Residence at the Brick Works, the photo-based gel transfers document the area’s plant life in ways that reflect on unceded territories, diasporic migrations, and Black histories on this land. Visitors can discover the images along the Beltline Trail between Evergreen Brick Works and Governor’s Bridge. The installation, presented in partnership with the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, will be on display from May 1, 2022 to October 31, 2022.
“Reflections on the Don Valley’s Indigenous, ecological, cultural, and industrial histories, present, and future are at the core of our public art program,” said Charlene K. Lau, Evergreen Curator. “Brewster’s evocative imagery pushes us all to think about what the lands and waterways of the Don Valley have seen in their time and in particular what constitutes multitudinous Black experiences in the Canadian wilderness.”
Embedded and hovering above the greenspace along the ravine trail, Brewster’s 15 l photographic transfers guide viewers through these outdoor spaces, echoing that of the walks the artist took with activist, scholar, and founder of Black Outdoors, Jacqueline L. Scott, as they travelled along the Don River in preparatory research for Roots. The project animates the roots of Brewster’s Caribbean Canadian diasporic narrative and speaks more broadly to Black histories on this land. Building upon one of her significant earlier works—Hiking Black Creek (2018), which depicts her parents as they explore Toronto’s Black Creek ravines—Brewster connects Canada and Guyana, Toronto’s forests and the Amazonian jungle, offering new perspectives on ideas of home and belonging while contributing to rich histories of the Black diaspora in the land now called Canada.
Brewster’s images chart movement and migration toward and across lands complicated by histories of unceded territories—in Toronto/Tkaronto, of the Wyandot, Haudenosaunee, and Anishnaabek Confederacies—and of enslavement. Nature’s inherent beauty is paired with the terror of colonialist and capitalist extraction—difficult histories that make imprints on the Brick Works site today. In the reparative work of reconciliation, it is necessary to view and contend with all of these histories of the land. According to Brewster, “The form of the visual presentation – the dark and textured surfaces and the imperfect nature of the materiality of the pieces – resonates with memory, storytelling and history and references a haunting that may exist within an experience of being surrounded by the wilderness.”
Roots was developed alongside research on Black experiences in Toronto’s ravine lands in collaboration with Scott, an advocate for Black people’s access and enjoyment of the outdoors. Through sharing stories and knowledge, Brewster and Scott have generated a sense of togetherness through the vitality of outdoor activity, with nourishing effects. To be among others, collectively experiencing the curiosities and joys of the outdoors, offers restorative potential and the opportunity to forge future memories, as nature and community heal together.
For more information about the installation, please visit Sandra Brewster: Roots.
Roots by Sandra Brewster is supported by Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and Toronto Arts Council.
Presented in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and part of ArtworxTO.
About Sandra Brewster:
Sandra Brewster is a Toronto-based artist who engages with themes centred on identity, belonging, memory, and Black being within the Caribbean diaspora. She has been the recipient of the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Artist Prize in 2018, and the Gattuso Prize for outstanding featured exhibition in the 2017 CONTACT Photography Festival. Recent solo exhibitions include Take a Little Trip, Olga Korper Gallery (2022); By Way of Communion, the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (2022); Precious Sense, Harnett Gallery, University of Rochester (2022); and Blur, Art Gallery of Ontario (2019–20). Her work will appear in the upcoming exhibition Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today, MCA Chicago (2022–23).
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Evergreen is dedicated to making cities livable, green and prosperous. Since 1991, the national not-for-profit has been facilitating change in communities through connection, innovation and sustainable actions. We work with community builders across sectors to solve some of the most pressing issues cities face: climate change, housing affordability, and access to nature and public spaces. The Brick Works, located in Toronto’s ravine system, is a year-round destination where the world comes to experience sustainability in action. Once an industrial brick factory, it is an internationally renowned showcase of green design, an award-winning public space and a test site to pilot ideas that can be scaled across the country to shape our cities for the better.