By Julia Paolercio
Ryerson’s School of Image Arts and the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) will be co-hosting Black Portraiture[s], an international conference on Black cultural production and art in the fall of 2021.
Black Portraiture[s] is an international conference that promotes Black voices and art, focusing on Black cultural production and exploring the Black body and experiences. Absent/ed Presence marks the first time the conference will take place in Canada.
“It was really a great honour,” said Thierry Gervais, head of research at RIC and a professor at the School of Image Arts, on being approached by Black Portraiture[s] to host the event.
The theme of this year’s conference, Absent/ed Presence, will explore Blackness and its constant erasure and dislocation from art, art history, performance, archives, museums, cultural production and technology.
According to the website, the conference is inspired by the work of Rinaldo Walcott, an associate professor at both the Women and Gender Studies Institute and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, both at the University of Toronto. Walcott describes the Canadian cultural landscape as a space where Blackness and Black cultural production are continually displaced but Blackness remains.
Previously, the conference has been hosted in Florence, Italy, Johannesburg, South Africa, Paris, France and New York City, with a different theme each year. The conference includes panels, talks and lectures among other events dedicated to the annual theme.
“We’re hoping to continue the legacy of Black Portraiture[s] that is creating critical learning and artistic spaces which place the history and the current state of Blackness and Black individuals at the centre,” said Safia Siad, the head organizer of BPTO.
Gervais said an event like this, which is centred around the Black body and the African diaspora, is almost a bit late coming to Toronto and Ryerson. “I think it’s the type of event that we need in an institution like ours,” he said. “These are the subjects that we need to talk [about] and I’m very happy that that discussion will be happening at Ryerson.”
Presenters are encouraged to consider Blackness as “unfixed, geographic, invisible, and hypervisible, opaque, local and global,” according to the website.
Putting the event together
Siad, who is working with academics and artists in an advisory committee that includes Toronto’s Black art community, will be going through submissions for the conference. The submissions will include art, abstracts, panels and more. “When people are submitting, I think we’re pretty open to new ideas that are outside of the standard panel set-up.”
This year, the conference is expected to be hosted as a hybrid event, both in-person and online. Conference events will include a keynote lecture and discussion panels occurring simultaneously in multiple rooms.
“These conferences are really amazing because they do bring academics, thinkers, artists, pedagogues and people from the Black diaspora together to talk about ideas,” said Siad. “People have established relationships that have continued, and artistic partnerships that have stemmed from meeting at these conferences, which is really an amazing thing.”
Siad also said the in-person and online format will be an excellent opportunity for those who might not otherwise be able to attend the event.
Both BPTO and RIC are ideally hoping for an in-person conference in the fall, however, they’re prepared to move the event entirely online if COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from holding an in-person portion.
Black Portraiture[s] is set to take place from Oct. 14-16, 2021.