Glodi Bahati at PLATFORM centre, Winnipeg
By Mahlet Cuff
I peek around the corner into the PLATFORM gallery space and get the merest glimpse into the Bahati family archive. The photographs arranged along the wall are from Winnipeg-based artist Glodi Bahati’s past and present. Being the keeper of family photographs is a special role. That person organizes images, remembers dates, and is able to name who is in each picture. There is a juxtaposition of photos from her upbringing before arriving to Canada, her family’s time in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the present day. The journey that her family took, from being refugees and immigrating to Canada, is documented through not only photographs, but newspaper clippings and articles. The combination of the two activates the notion of remembering where you came from.
This exhibition, Notes on Self Invention, asks its audience to think about their relationship to memory: what do we choose to remember, who can we look to when those memories are hard to recall, and how can we create new memories that are influenced by the past. Memory work is not a singular action, but is meant to be collaborative; recalling memories takes many people. Understanding the roots that tie you together in relation to family can be complex when the memories are blurred with trauma.
The framed photograph of Bahati’s mother, father and siblings is one that feels natural. Alliance, the artist’s sister, is leaning on her brother, smiling while her other hand is on her father’s shoulder. All of them stand in a church pew together. The next photo is similar, but Bahati is present in this one, next to her mother, back home in Congo. It seems to be a family gathering. Everyone is dressed up posing for the camera. Although the artist is not present in the image from the present day, her presence lingers in the photo. The present-day photo illuminates the relationship between the subjects and the person behind the camera.
Bahati’s family, being integral to the images, is asked too, to recall these memories collectively. Older photographs are positioned beside images from the present of children all grown up, parents getting older, siblings side by side with their own children, and loving looks shared with one another. The gaze in these images is one that is fueled by the tenderness that the artist has for her family, as seen in her attention to detail when photographing her parents looking at each other fondly while sitting in a church pew. The red and blue lighting cascades across their faces and washes over them.
Beside this photograph is another of the couple, but when they were younger. Bahati’s mother smiles wide, and her cheeks gleam while she leans towards her husband. These family portraits disrupt the idea of a typical family photograph. The artist is able to get her siblings, cousins, mother, and father in one room to pose, but they are not choreographed. They are able just to be, and it is clear that they are enjoying each other’s company. The colonial gaze is removed from this photo and Bahati applies her own, where her family has the autonomy to be their complete selves. Bahati’s reference points of self invention begin with her family and end with her family. They share stories, gestures, and history with one another. They are integral to who she is and who she has become today.
Glodi Bahati: Notes on Self Invention continues until April 1.
PLATFORM centre: https://platformgallery.org/
The gallery is accessible.
Mahlet Cuff is an emerging curator, writer and artist. She is based in Treaty 1 Territory in so-called Winnipeg, Manitoba. They have written pieces for BlackFlash Expanded and Public Parking.