Black Dots and B-Sides reveals the workshop process of developing the exhibition Is Love a Synonym for Abolition? Revealing the research process Isabel Okoro, Timothy Yanick Hunter and Liz Ikiriko share the collected materials including collaged images, screengrabs, text excerpts along with personal writing to frame the work developed by Okoro and Yanick Hunter.

Conceived as a Black, feminist, collaborative process that encourages relation building and forefronts care, Is Love A Synonym for Abolition? presents the work of emerging Toronto-based artists Isabel Okoro and Timothy Yanick Hunter. Informed by the sharing of source materials and conversations with curator Liz Ikiriko and advisor Katherine McKittrick, the exhibition features photography, archival footage, poetry, sound, and sculptural installation.

Is Love a Synonym for Abolition? draws its title from scholar Saidiya Hartman’s essay “The End of White Supremacy, An American Romance,” published in the June 2020 issue of BOMB Magazine. Hartman lays bare the very real, sobering pain of Black existence within an age-old white supremacist system. The summer of 2020 was a fever dream, alighting cities on fire. For Black people, the continued police brutality, public killings, and the chosen inaction by those in power was too great a pain to be silenced or carried alone. Times like these are noted, written about, and reflected on while the behemoth structures of empire continue to consume and extract with absolute disregard for human life. How do we continue in the face of hopeless futures brought into presence by hopeless pasts? What does it mean to consider abolition in an age of continued Black death and an ongoing global pandemic?

This exhibition may not be a resolute answer and yet it creates possibility within an impossible time. Okoro and Hunter disrupt the linearity of our present tense to break the structural silence that maintains Blackness in a sunken place. Amid this age of COVID-19, when human physical presence is hyper-realized and limited, when embodied connections must be mitigated, they create environments that attend to bodies, psyches, passions and conflicts. Through discussions, the artists encourage and support each other in their process and research. Extending their relationship into the gallery, a shared workspace created by both artists, equipped with influential texts, photocopies, and additional materials is offered for visitors to engage in collective thinking and making.

A Nigerian, self-taught photographer, Okoro uses visual storytelling to consider colonial histories of the Afro-diaspora while also envisioning futures of Black love and autonomy. Her series If You Knew How We Got Here (2021) is a parable that contemplate scultural lineages, transatlantic movement, and home/lands. Using poetry andt raditional colour and black-and-white film photography, Okoro sensitively depicts intimacy between friends and lovers, kindred relations that might be falsely perceived as fragile. Photographing both in Canada and Nigeria, Okoro confidently shows us lives fortified through tenderness and connections that transcend geographic territories.

Working with rare film clips, ‘90s R&B tracks, liner notes, poems, and correspondence, Hunter creates video mashups projected onto sculpted surfaces. These layers of diasporic ephemera span a range of cultural references, from Franz Fanon to Whitney Houston, and offer meditations on the amorphous qualities of time and space. In the world he conjures, our labour and dreams are united with our ancestors binding the past and present, not only through our admiration but also through our shared struggles. He presents ways of being both physically and virtually nurtured, offering these nostalgic images and sounds as instructions, ceremonies, and samplings to usher us through a portal of reflection to find a future that surpasses basic survival.

This past year of online conversations between artists, curator, and advisor reinforce a collective understanding of how precious and necessary it is to build supportive Black creative outlets, particularly in this anxiety-inducing time. In Dear Science and Other Stories (2021), Katherine McKittrick writes: “I imperfectly draw attention to how seeking liberation and, reinventing the terms of black life outside normatively negative conceptions of blackness, is onerous, joyful, and difficult, yet unmeasured and unmeasurable. Mnemonic black livingness. My heart makes my head swim.”

And so, we swim, and we dance, laugh, fight, sing, create, and share among ourselves to make worlds out of worlds built to destroy us. 

A colour snapshot of author in a swimming pool near the shallow end signage.

Isabel Okoro is a Nigerian, Toronto-based self-taught photographer. Okoro uses photography to visualize an imagined worlds and eternity, as a space to immortalize family, friends & those she meets along the way. Her governing photographic thesis is predicated on the creation of a Black utopia; a world free of the anxiety, violence and oppression experienced by those of the African diaspora. Her work has been featured online with i-D Magazine, WePresent by WeTransfer, Nataal Magazine and Der Greif Magazine.

Timothy Yanick Hunter is a multidisciplinary artist and curator based in Toronto Canada. Hunter's practice employs strategies of bricolage to examine non-neutral relationships relating to Black and Afro-diasporic experiences as well as concurrent strategies of decolonization. His approach alternates between exploratory and didactic; with a focus on the political, cultural, and social richness of the Black Diaspora. Hunter's work often delves into speculative narratives and the intersections of physical space, digital space, and the intangible.

Liz Ikiriko is a biracial Nigerian Canadian artist and curator. She is committed to the creation of embodied experiences that utilize accessible platforms to share moments of vulnerability and care for all of us on the margins. As an independent curator she has exhibited across Canada and facilitated projects with Ryerson University, Wedge Curatorial Projects, Gallery 44. Her work has been published in Public Journal, MICE Magazine, C Magazine, Akimbo and The Ethnic Aisle. She holds an MFA from OCAD University (2019) and is currently Assistant Curator at the Art Gallery at York University.

Katherine McKittrick is Professor of Gender Studies at Queen’s University. She authored Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (UMP, 2006) and edited and contributed to Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (DUP, 2015). Her most recent monograph, Dear Science and Other Stories (DUP, 2021) is an exploration of black methodologies.

Writer Liz Ikiriko
Date 2021
Publisher Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography
Design Anna Binta Diallo
Printer Vida Press
Size 7 x 9 Inch
Length 40 pp

We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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