CRITIC’S PICKS: Letticia Cosbert

What a year it’s been. I won’t waste any time recalling the crimes of the administration to the south or spotlighting our recently elected provincial leader (both devoid of brains or backbone). Instead I’ll focus on all the friendships that blossomed, the quiet conversations I had while waiting for the Dundas bus after an artist talk, or me screaming at the top of my lungs about “palette” at a gallery opening – two glasses of wine deep. This year was all about community – seeking, building, and, once it’s been found, holding on for dear life. Here are some of the best things I attended in the city with the best of friends throughout the year.

After hosting Michèle Pearson Clarke for a yearlong residency, Gallery 44 presented A Welcome Weight on my Body, Clarke’s exploration of the possibilities of analogue photography in response to and alongside Black presence. I will never forget the beauty of the gallery’s walls spangled with framed portraits of Black people I knew well, others I was suddenly curious to meet. Some photos overexposed, others taken mid-blink, but even more devastating than their beauty was Clarke’s vulnerability. On the topic of Blackness, OCAD Onsite Gallery’s multi-sensory exhibition The Sunshine Eaters wove diasporic identities through palette (!), texture, and sound with Nick Cave, Jessica Patricia Kichoncho Karuhanga, and Ebony G. Patterson (alongside several other outstanding artists and their works). And in one of the smartest exhibitions of the year, Figures of Sleep at the UofT Art Museum explored sleep under various global circumstances and its use as a motif in the work of Rebecca Belmore, Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle, and others to address political, cultural, and social concern. More of this and less Gordon Parks, please.

Arthur Jafa, Love is The Message, The Message is Death, 2016, video

The most memorable artist talk of the year has to be Arthur Jafa at the AGO’s Bailie Court, where the Mississippi-born film director, cinematographer, visual artist, lecturer, and writer screened his acclaimed video masterpiece Love is The Message, The Message is Death (2016), which brought me to tears. Refusing to prepare a lecture, Jafa engaged in casual, bashful conversation with the audience and shared sneak peeks of projects he was currently working on, including akingdoncomethas (2018), a 100 minute-long video chronicling Black American worship ceremonies. Months later, another worship ceremony was led in the basement of the Drake Hotel by “tattooed occultist” serpentwithfeet, whose gospel vocals set to romantic lyrics and bombastic instrumentals swept us off our feet. And I am unable to forget Nasrin Himada’s lecture at Mercer Union, where she so generously shared stories of her home in Palestine, real and imagined, in her curatorial and writing series For Many Returns.

Dionne Brand, Teju Cole, and Madeleine Thien met at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss the politics of exploring a city by foot, the architecture of colonization (not to be confused with colonial architecture) and the acoustics of various traveled cities. Inspired by their conversation, a friend and I walked and talked all the way home from Yonge Street to Lansdowne. While the blisters were tragic, the journey shifted my view and experience of the city in ways that I am still discovering. Some months later at the same venue, Rebecca Traister visited to discuss her latest monograph Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Traister did not to fail to disappoint, and spoke furiously and intersectionally about the many transgressions women have endured at the hands of patriarchy. Still confounding is the decision to have a man moderate the conversation, no less one who was clearly out of his league and gradually dulled in the presence of Traister’s brilliance.

I have no parting optimism to offer you for 2019, aside from the admonishment to squeeze your friends tighter, take them to an exhibition or two, RSVP for that artist talk, go to that lecture, read that book, and hold onto those moments when you feel seen, heard, understood, and a little less alone.

Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto based writer and editor, and is currently the Director of Koffler.Digital at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. Letticia studied Classics, earning a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Gardiner Museum, YTB Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti.