Gloria C. Swain, Artist – Toronto

Gloria C. Swain is a multidisciplinary female artist, activist, and seniors’ rights and mental health advocate working out of Toronto. She works within the mediums of installation, painting, performance, and photography to challenge systemic oppression against Black women and trans folks. Her work explores and connects past traumas of slavery to ongoing colonial violence, ageism, and mental health. In 2016, she was the artist-in-residence at Tangled Art + Disability. She holds a certificate in Community Arts Practice and a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University. Her work has shown in Toronto, Manitoba, and Montreal. She is also a facilitator and writer about disability and arts activism. Her writings have been published in Cultivate Feminism, the Peak Magazine, and the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. Her solo exhibition This Too Shall Pass is on display at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba until March 21. (photograph: Kwasi Kyei)

  1. Accessibility

Conversations within mainstream art spaces do not typically include access and inclusion for disabled artists. I use art to open opportunities for often-quieted conversations about mental health disabilities and the connection between madness, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and state-sanctioned anti-Black racism. I curated the exhibition Hidden at Tangled Arts + Disability. It explores intergenerational trauma, exclusion, and lived experiences of several Black artists with hidden disabilities, and runs until February 28.

  1. Therapy pets

I am inspired by my therapy cat Patches. I rescued her from a shelter in 2018 after undergoing ovarian cancer surgery and struggling with anxiety from a horrific living situation. I really believe she rescued me because she has been extremely therapeutic in helping me relax with my mental health issues.

  1. Self-care

Self-care is important. My self-prescribed therapy is keeping busy and celebrating folks who I call chosen family. As an artist and activist, I have a strict schedule of making time to breathe. I regularly attend the entertaining Nubian Show at Yuk Yuks Toronto every month to get my comedy therapy from my long-time friend, the Canadian comic genius, Kenny Robinson. I locate dance or karaoke spots in the village to keep the blood flowing. Laugher and dance are important parts of my art-making as seen in my recent CBC Arts Exhibitionists interview with Amanda Parris.

  1. Storytelling

I am fixated on telling untold stories of enslaved Black women that reflect hope, perseverance, and unapologetic reclaiming of place as we continue to strive to be seen and heard. Black women have been conditioned to be afraid to admit that we’re struggling. With OAC funding and the support of Tangled Art & Disability, my Mary Shadd exhibit is on display in the lower level [S30] at 401 Richmond for Black History Month. This work centers on escaped slaves from America seeking freedom in Canada through the Underground Railroad.

  1. Healing art

I create textured abstract paintings to speak to my own unknown history, intergenerational trauma and poverty, mental health, racism, and ageism. Alyssa Fearon curated an exhibition of these paintings at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba alongside the brilliant work of Liz Ikiriko.