Late last year, KWAG’s Acquisitions Committee met to review and approve new additions to our Permanent Collection. This work of growing our Collection of over 4300 objects is always an exciting occasion to deepen our support of artists and their practices while carefully reshaping the canon of contemporary art through the works we safeguard for future generations.
Two new acquisitions by Deanna Bowen achieve both these aims by preserving two notable works from recent KWAG exhibitions that exemplify this award-winning artist’s commitment to revealing the biases that shape Canadian society.
The first of these new acquisitions, “1911 Anti Creek-Negro Petition” from Immigration of Negroes from the United States to Western Canada 1910-1911, first came to KWAG as a part of Carry Forward, a 2017 group exhibition curated by Lisa Myers. This staggering reproduction of a racist petition opposing the immigration of Black settlers in Alberta first came into the hands of our Registrar for condition reporting ahead of the exhibition. In the process of tracking all 234 pages of the petition, the name of one of its signatories made her pause – Barker Fairley, a well-known colleague of the Group of Seven and an artist represented in our Collection, had signed his name to the petition.
After consulting Deanna Bowen, our curatorial team chose to recognize this startling discovery by adding a Barker Fairley lithograph from KWAG’s Permanent Collection to our installation of Carry Forward, which has subsequently traveled with this exhibition on its tour to other Canadian venues. This decision was a first gesture towards the difficult conversations that would test our institutional accountability while honouring this surprising collision of artistic histories.
The conversations that sprang from the petition would lead to a years-long collaboration between Bowen and our former Senior Curator Crystal Mowry, which resulted in Deanna Bowen’s award-winning 2020 solo exhibition, Black Drones in the Hive. Among the large constellations of archival materials assembled by the artist to reveal intertwined stories of race and settlement in Canada was one particular to the history of Waterloo Region. In Berlin Constellation, Bowen traces the experiences of early Black settlers in this region as well as the tumultuous events surrounding this city’s name change from Berlin to Kitchener.
Originally displayed in Black Drones in the Hive in concert with works from our Permanent Collection that reflect Kitchener’s local history, Bowen’s Berlin Constellation will live on in our Collection as an installation of eighteen prints. We are grateful for the support of the Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Foundation in the purchase of this pivotal work, which we look forward to sharing with wider audiences with Black Drones in the Hive begins touring to other galleries later this year.