The Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) has presented the exhibition Fi Di Gyal Dem online as part of the Scotiabank Contact Festival. The exhibition is comprised of works by photographer Jorian Charlton and visual artist Kadine Lindsay, curated by Toronto-based artist Roya DelSol. It features photographs and mixed media works along with accompanying essays, exploring the nuances of Black womanhood.
The exhibition is abundant with imagery that illustrates the facets and construction of Black womanhood. The art pieces work in tandem with the essays to visualize the inner lives of these women, to flesh out ideas of their worlds. The show presents alternating images, sometimes photos, sometimes mixed media pieces, each showcasing the variable ways of Black women’s existence. The presentation opens with Kadine Lindsay and Jorian Charlton’s Under Me Sensei (2021), a photograph of Lindsay by Charlton. Lindsay is laying on her side lounging on a couch and enshrouded by plumes of smoke. Her company is two other women smoking— the artist’s painted self-portraits. The three subjects share in the activity of smoking, similarly clad in lingerie as they meet the viewer’s gaze. This is the work that establishes the kind of visual imagery that the exhibition showcases. It captures the multiplicity that exists within the self, specifically focusing on the inner worlds of Black women. The ways in which they depict themselves and manufacture how to be perceived is the focal point of the exhibition.
Kadine Lindsay and Jorian Charlton, Under Me Sensei, 2021, mixed media
Following the initial work is a photographic diptych. The first photo is Jorian Charlton’s Untitled (Nevine and Nyabel), a portrait of two women standing by holding to each other. Within the image they appear austere, regal, and united with their interlocking arms. Their outfits are coordinated in a similar manner: green and purple pastel pants in a crochet pattern, black camisoles, beaded bracelets, with hints of lilac and blush on their ears, upon their heads, and lips. The women are framed by trees that echo the palette and centralizes the focus to their gaze. Parallel to the image is Untitled (Synée and Keverine), capturing how Black women can simultaneously occupy multiple truths: demure and poise while also being fun and sultry. The two women form a dyad as they lean into each other, decorated in brightly coloured hair accentuated by their glittery and fluorescent sunglasses. The large gold hoops adorning their ears further amplify their glamour along with the bedazzled hair clips and acrylic nails. Their makeup complements their presentation as it features a high contrast gradient achieved through violet lip liner softening to the mauve base. We are able to witness the subjects of the photos being vulnerable with one another and with those viewing them. Charlton portrays Black women in a manner that displays their multiple truths. These women can be soft and bold, regal and lax, as documented within their respective elements.
Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Nevine & Nyabel), 2021, (left) and Untitled (Sydné & Keverine), 2020 (right)
Charlton’s approach is complemented by Lindsay’s depiction of lived experience, carried out in saturated tones and mesmerizing figures. Works such as Lindsay’s Pon Di Pole (2021) explore womanhood through self-reflection. The image presents a hypnotizing figure coiled like a tendril upon a pole. The woman is depicted with her leg wrapped around a pole for support as she lowers herself within the foreground of the painting. Surrounding her are plants, likely a signifier for growth as she submerges herself in her garden of sensuality. There is no shame in this exploration, rather a refusal to shy away from the self.
Kadine Lindsay, Pon Di Pole, 2021, acrylic on canvas
For further engagement, visitors may click on the images and view an expanded version alongside tweets and links shared by the team behind Fi Di Gyal Dem. Viewers can also expand on the accompanying essays included on the website, such as Omi Ra’s Journal Entry #1: What’s in a Name?. Ra’s exploration of womanhood via self-exploration is informed by the cultural perspective of being a Jamaican woman. Featuring this essay and the examination of the artists’ constructions of identity proves vital as it incorporates how each woman comes into their own with self-understanding. Further, the essay reflects upon the layers of perceptions that form how one is understood: the gaze of the self, the gaze of others, and the gazing of others gazing the self. Through the inclusion of Jamaican perspectives, the exhibition recognizes the prominent West Indian diaspora in Toronto, a critical contributor to the culture of the city.
It is essential to consider how Fi Di Gyal Dem can resonate with the community of Black women in Toronto. I cannot speak to how it would resonate to Black women, however I can comment on how it nuances the representation of Black women. Black women have largely been reduced to caricatures in the media, sometimes only as one-dimensional characters implemented to move the plot forward for prominent show runners. Many artists have been challenging those forms of representation, whether that is through literature, visual arts, or careers that diversify the roles that Black women have in society. For example, the works of Carrie Mae Weems was instrumental in showcasing the domestic life of Black women in The Kitchen Table Series (1990). Her photographic project challenged the one-dimensional representation of Black women by documenting identity, experiences, with a focus on relationships. The kitchen has been understood as a woman’s domain and Weems had used that setting for the series, employing various staged scenes to explore life as a Black woman, and women broadly. Jorian Charlton and Kadine Lindsay similarly contribute visual imagery that nuances how women are perceived and are presented. The exhibition meaningfully depicts Black women in their various states and with an energy of refusal; whether it is relation to perform a prescribed role, level of sexuality, or position of submission.
Images are courtesy of the artists.
*Exhibition information: Jorian Charlton and Kadine Lindsay, fi di gyal dem, May 5 – December 10, 2022, online exhibition, Doris McCarthy Gallery. Part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival 2022.