VANCOUVER ART GALLERY, Vancouver BC. To March 13, 2022
by Robin Laurence
Jan Wade: Soul Power is the Vancouver Art Gallery’s first solo show by a Black woman artist. This astounding fact alone suggests the exclusion and marginalization that have shaped the career of this Hamilton-born, Vancouver-based artist for decades.
Jan Wade’s highly distinctive work, much of it created out of found and recycled objects and materials, has been exhibited in small public galleries and artist-run centres, and she has been awarded artist residencies in near and distant lands. However, on the whole and significantly, her art has existed outside Vancouver’s critical and curatorial mainstream, on the cultural margins of the city where she has lived since the 1980s.
Soul Power, curated by Siobhan McCracken Nixon, surveys some 30 years of Wade’s artmaking. The retrospective includes mixed-media paintings and text works; icon-like sculptural objects heavily embellished with antique buttons, Scrabble tiles, coins, shells, figurines and religious symbols; and a room-wrapping embroidery evocative of African American quilt traditions and dedicated to the memory of George Floyd and to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Wade’s art speaks to her mixed cultural heritage; her early years in a predominantly Black community in Hamilton; her family’s attendance at an African Methodist Episcopal church; her research into Black history and culture in the American South; her lived experience of racism; and her belief in processes of making, doing and transformation. In her constantly evolving artworks, the legacy of slavery intersects with her address of contemporary social, political and economic issues – to electrifying effect.