Agnes Etherington Art Centre Presents: Zina Saro-Wiwa

“…My Assemblies aim to rewire the social contract and are an opportunity to explore the very idea of ‘spirit’. It is social medicine.” – Zina Saro-Wiwa

This March, Agnes hosts world-renowned Zina Saro-Wiwa as artist-in-residence, culminating in a very special Illicit Gin Institute Assembly on Wolfe Island on 31 March 31, 7–10 pm. Other public-facing programs include a screening of Saro-Wiwa’s 2020 film Worrying The Mask: The Politics of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in the Worlds of African Art on 3 March, 7 pm at The Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts, an episode—or two— of Spirit Led, Saro-Wiwa’s podcast series, and other surprises yet to come!

Curated by Emelie Chhangur, Qanita Lilla and Sebastian De Line

Zina Saro-Wiwa
The Illicit Gin Institute: Assembly #6

Commissioned and presented by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Hotel Wolfe Island, 1237 County Rd 96, Wolfe Island, ON
31 March 2023, 7–10 pm
The event is free, registration opens 15 March, visit the Agnes website for more details.

A social sculpture and a secular ritual that carries resonances of fellowship and solidarity, Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Assembly is a living, evolving performance piece created in collaboration with local audience-participants to share and express her findings on African sociality, botanicals, spirituality, and science. They make space for new stories to bubble forth from older forms and connect people, places and histories. This is the first major presentation of Saro-Wiwa’s work in Canada.*

“Assemblies are portals where…flora is alive, says Zina Saro-Wiwa. “I am introducing a West African cultural approach to alcohol consumption which is ritual, medicinal, mindful and moderate. My Assemblies are an opportunity to explore the very idea of ‘spirit’. The history of distilled spirits is alchemical and to me occupies a very powerful nexus at which spirituality and science meet. In many ways I feel this illicit gin is the perfect vehicle to explore the place of spirits and spirituality in the natural world. And the events do feel spiritual but they’re also very warm, rigorous and engaging. It is social medicine.”

Film Screening, Talk and Reception with Zina Saro-Wiwa

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, 390 King Street West, Kingston
3 March 2023, 7–9 pm
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Join us at the Isabel for a special film screening of Zina Saro-Wiwa’s video-performance Worrying the Mask: The Politics of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in the Worlds of African Art (2020). Following the screening, Saro-Wiwa takes to the stage with Dr Qanita Lilla, Associate Curator, Arts of Africa for a talk and Q&A.

In Worrying the Mask, Zina Saro-Wiwa questions the authority of the museum and its outmoded colonial practices and shifts the restitution debate into genuinely radical new territory. She exposes the desires and limitations of the storytelling surrounding African traditional objects whether in the country of origin or in the country of display and goes on to ask whether an African object can represent a people at all or if they, in fact, have a life of their own. She suggests that our attempts to understand, explain and truly benefit from these works as a society may require a fundamental ontological shift.

Saro-Wiwa’s film Worrying the Mask is in the collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

*The film was shown as an installation at Agnes, 7 August – 21 November, curated by Emelie Chhangur.

Zina Saro-Wiwa is a British-Nigerian artist who lives and works between Los Angeles, the United Kingdom, and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Born in 1976 in the Niger Delta region to a family with roots in Ogoniland, she initially used her art to respond to her family history of activism in the region. Saro-Wiwa works in film and photography but also with sound, food and distillation. After working as a BBC producer, presenter and reporter for more than twelve years she turned her attention to her artistic practice.

Zina Saro-Wiwa is one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Global Thinkers of 2016, recognized for her work in the Niger Delta. In April 2017 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Art. She has given talks and has shown works at biennales, museums and art fairs around the world including Tate Modern, Frieze and Basel Art Fairs and major public sites such as Times Square in Manhattan. Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, among others. She recently gave the keynote lecture for Yale’s Black Environmentalism’s conference (2022) and is currently exhibiting in the 5th Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala, India. A major solo exhibition of her work at the Pitt River Museum, Oxford opened in February 2023.

The commission, screening, residency, and podcast are made possible through the Chancellor Dunning Trust Visitorship, Queen’s University. Partners: Hotel Wolfe Island and Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

Agnes Etherington Art Centre logo

Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Situated within territories of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre is a curatorially-driven and research-intensive professional art centre that proudly serves a dual mandate as a leading, internationally recognized public art gallery and as an active pedagogical resource at Queen’s University in Kingston. By commissioning, researching, collecting and stewarding works of art, and by exhibiting and interpreting visual culture through an intersectional lens, Agnes creates opportunities for participation and exchange across communities, cultures, histories and geographies.

Agnes is committed to anti-racism. We work to eradicate institutional biases and develop accountable programs that centre the artistic expression and lived experience of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Agnes promotes 2SLGBTQIAP+ positive spaces.

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Kingston, ON K7L 3N6

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1. Portrait of Zina Saro-Wiwa. Courtesy of the artist
2. Zina Saro-Wiwa, Worrying the Mask: The Politics of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in the Worlds of African Art (detail), 2020, video. The Gallery Association Purchase Fund, 2021
3. Portrait of Zina Saro-Wiwa. Courtesy of the artist