Black Drones in the Hive: Deanna Bowen
Deanna Bowen, Taps in Black Drones in the Hive, 2020, video, installation view. Performed by Charles Ellison and filmed on location at OBORO, Montreal. Courtesy of the artist and the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo: Toni Hafkensheid

Black Drones in the Hive: Deanna Bowen

Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, BC - To Dec 30

by Michael Turner

Commissioned by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in 2020, this exhibition takes its title from a Kitchener city official’s racist assessment of Black journeyman William Robinson (“a black drone in the hive”), as found in the records of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869-1950). More artists these days are combining public records with “official” national histories and those of the artist’s family as a research-creation strategy. Where Deanna Bowen’s work especially shines is through the formal structure of her dense, constellational wall arrays.

Organized in chapters, the exhibition mingles arrays and sculptures to tell stories of a country that, in Bowen’s words, “didn’t want us.” A country that, though not always explicit in its racism, harboured and exalted those who were quietly complicit in it. An example Bowen has spoken on at length is carried in a picture she included in The Black Canadians (After Cooke) (2023) array: the Group of Seven painters seated around one of their promoters, the critic Barker Fairley, who signed a petition “effectively banning the immigration of Black people” to Canada.

Much has been made of Bowen’s suggestion that the Group of Seven’s iconic status is tainted, if not negated, by their association with Fairley. Some commentators, such as the National Post, have accused the National Gallery of Canada (which commissioned The Black Canadians and mounted it on the exterior of its building) of “historical revisionism.” But in the end, what Bowen is doing is neither inaccurate nor wrong. As an artist, she is simply drawing a line. A line that stretches longer than those we are accustomed to, a line that doesn’t ask What if? but Why not? And if not: Discuss.

For more on Deanna Bowen, see her National Gallery of Canada profile on YouTube.

Exhibition tour Nov 7, 10-11am, for members of the Kamloops Adult Learners’ Society

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