Nothing puts me in a bad mood faster than do-goodie identity politics and if last Saturday’s gallery tour is any indication, Toronto is a nesting ground for the shit. It only took four blocks on Queen Street West before I lost count of the artists utilizing the subject, the worst of which on display at the first exhibition space I visited. “The legacy of how Europe constructed the image of Africa is still an ongoing academic exercise” London-based curator Mark Sealy drones, two paragraphs into a curatorial statement for Bamako in Toronto, an exhibition of African photographs at The Gladstone, a gallery located inside a same named hotel. It’s only at the end of his dissertation rejecting “the notion of African photography” in favor of a more inclusive curatorial practice that he mentions the artists at all.
I guess five paragraphs of legitimizing identity text is needed though when the work selected for a show is no more than an amalgam of sentimental commercial photography. Situated on the top two floors of a gallery, viewers are greeted by Zanele Muhuli’s Africian lesbians kissing by the stove or smiling into the unseen distance, Saidou Dicko’s dime a dozen street photos and the unremarkable urban life in Lagos photos of Uche Okpa-Iroha. No doubt about it, the work in this show sucks, but a reasonable framing job would have at least dress it up. Not in Bamako in Toronto; cheap frames, mattes and cluttered hanging plague the exhibition. This aids the appearance that none of the artists are particularly in-tune with contemporary art making, a debatable glimmer in an otherwise forgettable show.
To follow: Thoughts on “That’s So Gay!”, the identity-themed exhibition I didn’t hate.