Natalie Wood: They Say We Can’t Breathe Underwater
A Space Gallery Presents
They Say We Can’t Breathe Underwater
Essay by: Geneviève Wallen
September 13 – October 8, 2022
Reception and Panel Discussion: October 1, 2022, 3:00 pm–5:00 pm
A Space Gallery, Toronto
They Say We Can’t Breathe Underwater grapples with the artist’s experiences of balancing the grief of living as a diasporic Black queer woman with her desire for seeking healing and creating joy. The twin pandemics of Covid-19 and its disproportionately deadly effect on Black communities worldwide, coupled with the visible global murders of Black people by the police, and the rise in white supremacy- amplify generations of grief, loss, fear, and rage experienced by the Black community. Through video and installation this exhibit draws on the healing stories and power of Yemaya, an African-Caribbean deity who lives in the Black Atlantic and can breathe underwater. It also draws upon the practice of Carnival costume making and the performance of Carnival as a Black community-made space traditionally linked to resistance, revolution, liberation, and joy. The artist’s concerns lie with her desire to acknowledge grief and in particular Black people’s collective grief, an ongoing subject she continues to explore in many formats. In this manifestation, she adds her voice to the chorus of folks advocating collective care and radical action. This show is meant to remind us we have always resisted attacks from those who refuse to acknowledge our humanity and, despite what has been said, we too know how to do the impossible and breathe underwater.
Natalie Wood is an award-winning Trinidadian-born, Tkaronto-based visual and media artist. Her multimedia artwork cohabits the areas of popular culture, education and historical research and explores her fascination with counter-narratives, healing cultures and icons that liberate Black and Queer communities. Her practice includes painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, and performance, and extends into her work as a curator, educator, and community-based queer activist. She is presently completing a research creation project for her PhD focused on Black Queer Resistance through Caribbean Carnivals.
Wood’s selected awards include a Canada Council Creation Grant 2020, a SSHRC grant, several York University, Ontario Graduate Scholarships and Fellowships, a Black Leadership Award from the Black Student Success Network at GBC 2017, Community Based Research Award of Merit, from the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives & the Wellesley Institute 2007, the New Pioneers Award for contribution to Arts and Culture 2006, and the City of York Civic Recognition Award 1997 for using the Arts to support marginalized communities along with numerous grants and awards from Toronto, Ontario and Canada Arts Council. She is a co-founder of the Environmental and Urban Change Black Caucus at York University, a fellow at Black Lives Matter’s Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, founder of the Blue Devil Posse and co-founder of the GBC Social Innovation Hub. Wood is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art where she had her first retrospective show called Exordium.
Geneviève Wallen is a Tiohtiá:ke/Mooniyang/MontrÉal and Tkaronto/Toronto-based independent curator, writer, and researcher. Wallen’s practice is informed by intersectional feminism, intergenerational dialogues, and BIPOC healing platforms offering alternatives to neo-liberal definitions of care. Her ongoing curatorial explorations include the practice of gift-giving, carving space for unfinished thoughts, and musings on the intersection of longevity and pleasure.
Wallen is the recipient of the 2022 Joan Yvonne Lowndes Award from the Canada Council for the Arts. She contributed essays for C magazine; the anthology Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada, edited by Deanna Bowen; and the anthology The Politics of Spatial Transgressions in the Arts, edited by Gregory Blair & Noa Bronstein, among others. Wallen is an Exhibition Coordinator at FOFA Gallery; she is also a member of the collective YTB (Younger than Beyoncé) Gallery; the co-initiator (with Marsya Maharani) of Souped Up; a member of the Black Curators Forum; an advisory board member of the Centre for the Study of Black Canadian Diaspora, and she recently joined Vie des arts’ editorial committee.