Making its only Canadian stop at the AGO, landmark exhibition features videos, installation, textiles, paintings, and photography by more than 30 Black British artists
Jazzie B to DJ opening party on Dec. 8, and joins Cadence Weapon in conversation on Dec. 9
TORONTO — Heralded by the UK Guardian as “exhilarating, mighty and tender,” and The Times as “highly evocative”, Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s-Now, opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Dec. 6, 2023. Tracing the extraordinary impact of Caribbean art and thought on British art history over seven decades this poetic and powerful exhibition crosses the Atlantic for the first time, making its North American debut in Toronto. Co-curated by David A. Bailey, Director, Artistic Director of the International Curators Forum, and Alex Farquharson, Director, Tate Britain, Life Between Islands at the AGO is overseen by Julie Crooks, Curator, Arts of Global Africa, and the Diaspora.
Referencing poetry, film, activism and music, the exhibition reflects through art how Caribbean-British artists forged new identities, communities, and cultures in Britain, often in the face of hostility and discrimination. Life Between Islands features artwork by more than 30 artists – from the Caribbean and those influenced by it – including Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, Horace Ové, Isaac Julien, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, Peter Doig, Hurvin Anderson, Barbara Walker and Alberta Whittle.
“It is a great pleasure to welcome these artworks and artists to Toronto — many of whom for the first time. This exhibition was a hugely important event in Britain. It invites us to continue the conversations the AGO began in 2021 with Fragments of Epic Memory, to share great art often unseen here in Canada and to consider the extraordinary impact that the Caribbean diaspora has had in Britain and globally,” says Julie Crooks, AGO Curator, Arts of Global Africa, and the Diaspora. “I’m confident that Toronto audiences – particularly those with personal connections to the Caribbean – will see aspects of their own experience in these histories. The scale, richness and power of these artworks defy easy categorization and need to be seen.”
The first exhibition of its kind in Britain, Life Between Islands takes its title from the Jamaican-British writer Stuart Hall’s memoir, Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands.
“In mounting Life Between Islands, we undertook what no major British museum had done to date, which is to tell the history of British art from a Caribbean vantage point,” said co-curators David A. Bailey, Artistic Director of the International Curators Forum, and Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain. “But we did that knowing the impact of the Caribbean Diaspora is truly global and that the experiences and ideas that fuel these artworks resonate far beyond Britain’s shores. Seeing this exhibition reborn in Toronto has been inspiring, and we eagerly look forward to seeing what audiences here bring to it.”
A story reverberating with many voices and told in four parts, Life Between Islands at the AGO is dedicated to the memory of the influential Trinidadian artist Horace Ové (1939-2023), and features artworks by the following artists: Hurvin Anderson, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Vanley Burke, Pogus Caesar, Blue Curry, Paul Dash, Peter Doig, Denzil Forrester, Claudette Johnson, Liz Johnson Artur, Rachel Jones, Tam Joseph, Isaac Julien, Roshini Kempadoo, Neil Kenlock, Donald Lock, Hew Locke, John Lyons, Michael McMillan, Althea McNish, Steve McQueen, Marcia Michael, Ronald Moody, Dennis Morris, Chris Ofili, Horace Ové, Charlie Phillips, Keith Piper, Ingrid Pollard, Barbara Walker, Vron Ware, Alberta Whittle, Aubrey Williams, Denis Williams.
Large-scale immigration from the Caribbean to Britain recommenced in 1948, and the starting place for this survey of Caribbean British art is the so-called ‘Windrush generation’ and the modernist engagements of Aubrey Williams, Frank Bowling, and Ronald Moody.
Works by Vanley Burke, Tam Joseph, and Vron Ware document the police violence, poverty, and activism that gripped Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, as a second generation of Caribbean British artists came of age.
The reclamation of Carnival, begun in the 1960s in Notting Hill, comes alive in films by Isaac Julien and Sonia Boyce, and in the work of John Lyons and Chris Ofili. Tam Joseph’s paintings of carnival juxtapose the spiritual legacies of slavery in Africa and the New World, against a backdrop of institutional discrimination.
The political urgency of the Black Arts Movement in the 1980s, with its focus on anti-racism and feminism, comes alive in the photographic works of Ingrid Pollard, as well as in paintings Claudette Johnson and Denzil Forrester.
The exhibition concludes with a selection of recent works by a new generation of artists, whose works invoke materiality, place, and identity in new ways, among them Blue Curry, Rachel Jones and Marcia Michael.
Unique to the AGO’s presentation is a new immersive installation by artist and playwright Michael McMillan, entitled The Front Room: Inna Toronto/6ix. The latest in a series of installations designed to expose the social underpinnings of our domestic spaces – class, religion, gender, or alienation – in this new work, McMillan invites visitors to make themselves at home in the front room of a Caribbean immigrant family in suburban Toronto in the 1980s. The images on the walls of this front room were provided by the Vintage Black Canada Archive.
Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s-Now is accompanied by a 244 page, fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, published by Tate Britain, and an anthology entitled Liberation Begins in the Imagination: Writings on British Caribbean Art from Tate Publishing and ICF the International Curators Forum. Both are available now in shopAGO.
Admission to Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s-Now is free for AGO Members, Annual Pass holders, visitors 25 and under, and Indigenous Peoples. AGO Members see it first, beginning December 6, 2023. Annual Pass holders and single ticket buyers see it beginning December 8, 2023, at 6 p.m. Annual Passes are only $35 ($5 more than General Admission) and include free access to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions for twelve months. The exhibition runs until April 1, 2024. For more details on how to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit AGO.ca.
AGO Friday Nights presents Life Between Islands opening party
On Friday, December 8 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the AGO celebrates the opening of Life Between Islands with an all-ages night of art and art. Legendary musician Jazzie B, of Soul II Soul, will DJ. Admission to the party and to the exhibition is free with General Admission. For more details visit, ago.ca/events/ago-friday-nights-life-between-islands-caribbean-british-art-1950s-now
Artist Talk: Jazzie B and Cadence Weapon in Conversation
On Saturday, December 9, at 2 p.m., catch two legendary British DJ and musician Jazzie B, of Soul II Soul, in conversation with acclaimed Toronto-based rapper, producer, writer, poet, and activist Rollie Pemberton (AKA Cadence Weapon). For more details and to book tickets, visit ago.ca/events/jazzie-b-and-cadence-weapon-conversation.
Artist Talk: Zak Ové
On Saturday February 24, at 2 p.m. join multidisciplinary British-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové in conversation with AGO Curator, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, Julie Crooks about his work, his father’s legacy and his own engagement with Carnival, Trinidad, and the African Diaspora. Ové’s 2021 commission for the AGO, the 18-foot-sculpture titled Moko Jumbie, is on view in Galeria Italia, and the AGO presentation of the exhibition Life Between Islands is dedicated to Ové’s father, Horace Ove (1939-2023). Tickets go onsale in December, visit ago.ca/events for more information.
Additional programming details, including talks, screenings, and studio courses, to be announced in coming weeks as part of AGO’s winter programming.
Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now is organized by the AGO and originated by Tate Britain.
@AGOToronto | #seeAGO