Art exhibit in Richmond, B.C., celebrates Black expression, connection

Mary Wilson has been organizing Black History Month events in Richmond, B.C., since 2016.

As a retired social worker, Wilson says she still feels compelled to connect with others and bring people together. This year, she’s doing that through art, partnering with the Richmond Cultural Centre to feature the work of local Black artists Crystal Noir and John Hall.

Wilson told The Early Edition’s Missy Johnson she hopes the exhibit brings “encouragement and strength” to everyone who visits, and gives Black creators a boost of energy and inspiration.

“We can help and care about one another as time goes on and also showcase some amazing things that Black people have done in B.C.,” she said.

“People don’t know about us. And I think some people have a [stereotypical] idea about Black people. Those stereotypes need to change.”

Art with a message

Crystal Noir developed a passion for painting during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it has become a way to document her personal experience. The series of work she’s featuring in Richmond this month is called Metanoia.

“It’s really a transformative journey to finding self-love,” she said of the pieces on display. “The paintings sort of depict that you never really reach that destination, it’s just sort of an evolving road.”

One of Noir’s paintings on display in the gallery is called Choose Wisely. It depicts a Black woman with a justice scale on her head, and a heart and brain on either side of the scale. It poses the question of whether she should follow her head or her heart.

A painting shows part of a Black woman's face with a scale of justice balancing a heart and a brain on top of it. The artists stands in the gallery next to it.
Crystal Noir stands next to her ‘Choose Wisely’ painting at the Rotunda Gallery in the Richmond Cultural Centre. (Missy Johnson/CBC)

“I never really saw myself as a creative person before this,” Noir said. “I think I’m still learning.”

“Painting for me is really my form of meditation and my form of therapy. No matter how I feel before I get to the canvas, once I start painting I forget all of that.”

John Hall says he typically paints in an expressive style but took a different approach with the work he’s displaying in Richmond, creating mixed-media collages.

“I started with cut shapes of maps and built and layered upon that,” he said, explaining he added stenciled shapes of oil paint and used charcoal and kaolin clay in some of the works.

“The idea here was just to create visual depth to bring the viewer in and give the subject matter some of the gravity that it deserves.”

A male Black artist stands next to a smiling, colourful, tribal inspired artwork on display at the Upper Rotunda Gallery in Richmond, B.C.
John Hall stands in the Upper Rotunda Gallery at the Richmond Cultural Centre, where some of his work is on display. (Missy Johnson/CBC)

Hall said he wanted the pieces to feel unplanned and open-ended, hinting at the past with some tribal elements but evoking a sense of timelessness.

Wilson says she finds the art inspiring.

“I think that artwork speaks to the person that’s looking at it — and it’s your interpretation,” she said.

“Look at the painting. Take it in and then, 15 to 20 minutes later, with a cup of tea, think about what’s going through my mind.”

The Black Artists and Creators in our Community exhibit runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 27 in the Richmond Cultural Centre’s Upper Rotunda Gallery, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT Monday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Saturdays and Sundays.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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