The UNB Art Centre celebrates Black History Month with a program that highlights the creative and historical presence of Black Canadians in the Maritimes.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by blacks and a time to recognize their central role in history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” created by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. It began in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
Marie E. Maltais, director of the UNB Art Centre, said the goal of this series of events is to educate people and invite students to understand the history of blacks in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as in Canada.
“As citizens of this country it’s our obligation to be informed and educated on the issues of the day and this is a very particular and pressing issue,” Maltais said. “It’s important to bring these out into the public, so that we can talk about them, understand them and hopefully as we move forward, change how things are,” she said.
The events organized by the UNB Art Centre to celebrate Black History Month are spread throughout February. The program started on Feb. 8 with the screening of award winning animated short film Black Soul/Âme Noire, in which the history of the African diaspora unfolds through the story told by an elderly grandmother to her young grandson.
The short film was followed by a screening of Sisters in the Struggle, directed by Dionne Brand and Ginny Stikeman, in which black women activists share their experiences and their insights as they struggle with the dual problems of racism and sexism. The film series is also set to include Speakers for the Dead (2000), The Road Taken (1996) and Journey to Justice (2000).
The lecture series for the month is headlined by Robyn Maynard, co-founder of Noir, a black activist group committed to opposing racism in Quebec. She will be reading from her new book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.
According to Maltais, Maynard’s research overturns the concept of Canada’s cultural mosaic through the first comprehensive account of nearly 400 years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of black lives in Canada. The lecture will take place on Feb. 14 at the UNB Art Centre.
Besides the film and lecture series, the exhibition “Excavation: Memory Work” by Sylvia D. Hamilton showcases selections of text, artifacts and photographs—from the Kings Landing collection and the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick—that tell the story of black settlement in the region.
“I think when you actually see things that were real, they help to bring home the truth of this history. And it’s a history that’s filled with prejudice and discrimination, and part of what we’re trying to do here is to find some common ground so that people who are not of black descent can understand the history and experiences of people who deserve, like any other, to be treated with respect,” Maltais said.
For Maltais, the most important aspect of learning about Black History Month through art is that it can talk to you in a way no other media can.
“You’re actually experiencing these things by being in the midst of them, as opposed to reading a book or being involved in a discussion. It allows you to experience things sensually as well as intellectually.”