An Artistic Movement Towards the Future from Deanna Bowen
In Canada, the accomplishments of the black community are underrecognized. Black Canadians of all ages are consistently subject to discriminatory acts, prejudices, and stereotypes. The unfortunate reality is that even in the 21st century many people struggle to see past a skin colour to realize that diversity is what makes us stronger and Canadian. These conflicts have resulted in a century-long battle over race, but it does not always have to be this way. Numerous influential men and women have risen to take a stand for our nation, working towards making racism a word of the past. One such leader is Deanna Bowen.
Sum of the Parts: What can be Named is the title of an oral history performed by Deanna Bowen. Throughout this eighteen-minute production, viewers are taken to explore Bowen’s family history as she recounts their struggles against racial segregation. Bowen was born in 1969 in Oakland, California and is an artist and educator who engages in multimedia creations to convey themes of racism, civil rights, and segregation (Deanna Bowen). Driven by desire, she has come a long way in uncovering her past and sharing it with the rest of the world. Through her research into African migration, Bowen has found that succeeding the “officially sanctioned and legislated Jim Crow segregation laws,” her great-grandparents fled to Canada (Galleries West). Bowen’s great-grandparents were pioneers of the black immigrant settlement Amber Valley in Alberta and they have been a lasting inspiration to her.
“She uses whatever medium can best tell the stories she uncovers,” states Canadian Art in Bowen’s feature. By incorporating her personal experiences alongside official documents, Bowen delivers effective and never-before-seen exhibits that intrigue spectators of all cultures and ethnicities. Whether it be a video installation or a sculpture, Bowen aims to reflect the hardships that black Canadians have encountered. One such piece is a powerful 4300-signature long petition against the immigration of black Canadians (Deanna Bowen). Consequently, she is able to evoke upon viewers emotions so impactful that they gain deep insight on the injustices still in existence today. More than a form of expression, art is an instigator of action.
As a widely acclaimed artist, Bowen has received a variety of awards including the 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship and 2014 William H. Johnson Prize (Deanna Bowen). Furthermore, her exploration has received international recognition at film festivals and museums including the “Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the Images Festival, Flux Projects, the Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax” (Deanna Bowen).
Moreover, Bowen’s willingness to share her family history has given outsiders the opportunity to understand the trauma the black community has endured from another lens. It is not until we are willing to listen and communicate with a person, despite their differences, that we may begin to understand them. Through watching Bowen’s film productions and exhibitions, I was motivated to lead leadership and inclusivity conferences at my school as part of our Aiming for Individual Development and Empowerment Committee. Every year, we invite students from grades 7-9 across the region to partake in teambuilding activities and engaging presentations that foster the acceptance of diversity in our community and beyond.
Bowen is unique in that she has chosen to tell her story using visuals which can be simple yet complex at the same time. She continues to redefine the Canadian identity, enriching it with every piece of art. Through her extensive contributions, Bowen is one of the countless black Canadians steering Canada towards an accepting future of our diverse heritage. Whether we have a story to share or we yearn to learn and understand, we are all part of a growing community that gets stronger by the minute. I am truly grateful to call Canada my home and to be able to encounter inspiration everywhere I go. We must realize that we no longer live in a world of black and white, but instead, a world of every colour, shade, and tint. The world is our canvas, and we are the painters of tomorrow.
Bowen, Deanna. “Sum of the parts: what can be named.” Deanna Bowen, 2010, www.deannabowen.ca/sum-of-the-parts-what-can-be-named/. “Video: In the Studio with Deanna Bowen.” Canadian Art, 10 Aug. 2017, canadianart.ca/features/video-in-the-studio-with-deanna-bowen/. Westra, Monique. “DEANNA BOWEN, "Stories to Pass On," February 25, April 15, 2012, Esplanade Gallery, Medicine Hat.” Galleries West, 31 Dec. 2011, www.gallerieswest.ca.