Saturday, 18 of January of 2020

​WANTED: old newspaper ads reveal Canada’s hidden story of slavery

Artists Camille Turner and Camal Pirbhai transform posts found in old Canadian newspapers advertising slaves into portraits creating an embodied and visual archive of Canadian slavery.

WANTED will be presented at Border Cultures part 3: security, surveillance
Art Gallery of Windsor
401 Riverside Dr. W., Windsor, Ontario N9A 7J1

Friday January 30 at 7:00pm – 10:00pm


Some of Canada’s earliest Black settlers were enslaved people yet their histories, dating back 400 years are conspicuously missing from the national narrative. WANTED confronts this erasure by presenting a visual and embodied archive of slavery in Canada, WANTED draws from detailed descriptions in “runaway slave” and “slave for sale” ads posted by their owners in early Canadian newspapers. Rather than portraying enslaved people in the past where their lives are constrained by the violence and inhumanity of institutionalized bondage, the artists presented them in the future space of possibility they dreamed about as they set off on their journey towards freedom. At first glance the photos appear to be fashion photos but the text on the images is be taken from the old newspaper ads displayed below them. The video presents Peggy Pompadour with her teenage son Jupiter entering the posh King Edward Hotel. Her owner, who had placed an ad in the Upper Canada Gazette trying to sell the mother and son had previously imprisoned them for resisting slavery. Ironically, the site of the former jail occupied the space where the King Edward Hotel now stands.


For more information contact:
Camille Turner | 416.871.4200


Greetings from Karen, the other half of Outerregion.  I am in Dakar, exploring The Dak’ Art Biennale and the sights and sounds of the city. I am always in search of fellow beings dreaming of the Afrofuture.  In Dakar, I feel enveloped by an Afrofuturist spirit.  When I speak of the Afrofuture, I speak in simple terms.  I am not speaking as an academic, nor in a political manner, debating who and what is or should be included in the Afrofuturist cannon. In a recent article in Media Diversified, author Micah Yongo quotes artist and educator, Denenge Akpem, describing Afrofuturism simply as “what blackness could look like in the future”.
I sometimes feel that I am in a future world as I walk the streets of Dakar. Several buildings in The city look like they could be on a sci-fi movie set  A few examples are below:
People (or other beings) have left messages in various places in Dakar about the Afrofuture:
Several art works at the Dak’ Art Biennale spoke to the Afrofuture in my mind. For example, as part of the Green Art exhibit, artist Barthelemy Toguo meditates on the future of Africa in terms of food production, security and sustainability:
Many pieces in the Biennale take on futuristic aesthetics:
Serge Olivier Fokoua
Jim Chuchu:
Mbaye Diop:
Milumbe Haimbe:
Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, pictured below.
The intent of the monument was to create a symbol of a united Africa, pointing to the future.  However, there have been many detractors who critique the representation of women as subordinate to male protectors, the extravagant expense of the construction and the offensive display of the human form, which contradicts some Islamic teachings.The monument is so large, and exaggerated that it is almost cartoonish in its feel.

Dakar has been an unforgettable city.  I am blessed to have finally made it to the continent. I am grateful for the short opportunity to bear witness to my African sisters and brothers, living on the continent dreaming, planning and living the Afrofuture daily.
One love,

Dak’ Art

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind while the biennale symposium was in full swing. I met folks from all over the world and attended many openings. Every square inch of the city is jam packed with art work and every day I am discovering more and more offsite venues with gems like this one by Mamady Seydy. The while city is a work of art and I am trekking across town and exploring dakar’s nooks and crannies. Follow my journey on twitter, fb and flickr.


Afro modern

Today I went to the Dak’ Art press conference. In typical Senegalese style the venue changed with no announcement yet everyone seemed to find it. The place was packed. The three curators, Elise Atangana, Abdelkader Damani and Smooth Ugochukwu-C. Nzewi presented their vision and fielded questions. They made the decision to only present artists that had never been shown at the biennale. Amongst the chosen are some big stars like Wangechi Mutu . I can’t wait to meet her at her talk tomorrow.
The focus of this year is producing the commons, which they poetically referred to as the thread that binds humanity. Through this program, they want to extend the idea do modernity, which they point out is not singular. I look forward to the official opening tomorrow to see how they express their ideas in the exhibitions!

Dakar 2014

I arrived in Dakar yesterday. As my taxi sped past the cacophony of horns, dust, red, red earth and brightly garbed vendors lining the streets I contemplated my mission. I’m here to probe into the afrofuture.  A few moments before my plane landed! I met my first afronaut. He is a singer/songwriter named Lyricsson.
His genre is reggae. Although he is multilingual and lives in France, you could easily mistake his speech, look and mannerisms for a Jamaican. Not surprisingly, Lyricsson expressed admiration for Jamaica’s small size yet mighty reputation. What distinguishes high achievers like Usain Bolt, he said,  is confidence and self esteem. This, he pauses, is what Africans must summon in order to create the afrofuture.
Today, at Dakar, Àsìkò, an offside event of the biennale, I heard another artist echo Lyricson’s thoughts. Both, were  fiercely proud of their heritage and people…yet here they expressed their worry and desire to instil confidence in the youth. But does Africa suffer from a crisis of confidence? Some of the boldest music, fashions and art I’ve ever experienced come from this continent. Over the next few weeks I will explore the terrain of the afrofuture and will share what I uncover with you.


Conversations on the Edge

“Artists have really begun to invest their energy in conceptualizing their work so that it adds value to the people within a place, which oftentimes can have some social and even economic benefits for a neighborhood that’s in transition.”
Rick Lowe, Project Row Houses

Dear Friends,
On March 11 at 7pm please join me at Art Gallery of Mississauga for a community conversation with Toronto Star writer, San Grewal, cultural planner Mark Warrack and President of the Canadian Association of Planning Students, Matt Boscariol. Come and help us brainstorm how art and culture can be used as tools to  reimagine and transform the city! The evening will be moderated by Tina Chu, Art Gallery of Mississauga’s Engagement Officer.

Get your free tickets here

As Mississauga’s artist in residence I have created the (un)settler community journals that are circulating throughout the city collecting stories that reflect the rapidly changing face of Mississauga. I’ve also been exploring Mississauga’s strip malls as sites of vibrant, organic culture. Look forward to seeing you!

Social Justice Forum in Windsor

I’m back in Windsor for another whirlwind visit. Alana and I will be the keynote speakers for  the 8th Annual High School Social Justice Forum next Tuesday February 18 at University of Windsor Ambassador Auditorium and Dillon Hall. We will be speaking about our work in uncovering Windsor’s hidden stories the morning at the all day event that takes place from 9-3. I’m packing in meetings with various groups and community members in order to build partnerships and support for the project. I’m very excited about the response and the possibilities.

Coming Home

I’m on the train heading home from Windsor and reflecting on all that has transpired in the past nine days. When I began this journey my desire was  to unearth stories of people enslaved at the site that is now Windsor’s Community Museum, also known as Baby House. I had no idea how I was going to do this.

My presence in Windsor was met with responses that ranged from anxiety, curiosity, caution and excitement. Writing Black and indigenous bodies into the dominant narrative complicates the proud legacy of Canada-the-good. Exposing how Canada profited from this invisible labour force challenges the nation’s deepest held mythologies. After all, “we” participated on the receiving end of the Underground Railway…and didn’t we welcome fugitive slaves with open arms?

Many of Baby's class were slave owners. John Askin and Mathew Elliott owned numerous slaves.

Now I’m not the first person to slay the sacred cow. The work of numerous historians such as Marcel Trudel and Afua Cooper interrupt dominant national narratives yet something persistently holds these secrets tightly under wraps. It is my sincere hope that (un)masking Windsor’s first family and laying bare their untold stories will open up a space for re-imagining the future. Thank you to all the historians, archivists and citizen researchers who have so generously contributed to this project. Big thanks to the CBC’s Asha Tomlinson and Bob Steele and The Windsor Star’s Dalson Chen for your stories.

My heartfelt thanks for Alana Bartol who worked tirelessly to connect me to the community she loves so much. And big hugs to Judy Chapus and her partner Glen for housing, feeding and entertaining me during this residency.

The work continues. I’ll be back Windsor!

Media Coverage:

Interview by Bob Steele of CBC radio for the Bridge broadcast on October 22 4pm

CBC News story by Asha Tomlinson

Windsor Star story by Dalson Chen

By coincidence, whilst I was in Windsor, The Post ran an article by Historian Gregory Wigmore exploring Canada’s legacy of slavery. Check out his mention of the Baby family.

CBC Interview

CBC Interview Posted: Oct 24, 2013 3:20 PM ET
Its been a whirlwind. Alana Bartol and I have met with archivists, historians,  students, community members, artists and tomorrow we’ll speak to newcomers. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Windsor but it went by so quickly. On Saturday I’ll be on my way home.

I’m realizing that I’ve taken on a very large project. There is much to learn about the history of slavery in this area. I am piecing it together from various sources but I’m not a historian. I’m looking at this history through the eyes of an artist. I’m not looking for just “the facts”.  Like Toni Morrison, I’m looking for “the truth” of the lived Black experience.

Here’s a link to my interview on CBC TV.

Afronautic Research Council Launches Investigation in Windsor

I arrived at the Windsor Train station on Friday at 10 pm.  My host Judy promised to pick me up. I wondered how we would recognize each other since we had never met.  I needn’t have worried. Her partner Glen stood on the platform waving a red and white banner that read Miss Canadiana!

The next morning Judy walked me downtown to meet with Alana, the coordinator of  Neighbourhood Spaces, the entity that invited me to Windsor to do this residency. Neighbourhood Spaces is a joint initiative between the city of Windsor, the Windsor Art Council and Broken City Lab, an art incubator for artistic projects that engage the city. Alana is facilitating all aspects of my work here in Windsor including connecting me to important people and spaces in the community.

In order to create a portal enabling the public to step into interactive sonic stories of Canada’s Black pioneers during this residency I am launching the Afronautic Research Council. I am particularly interested in illuminating  hidden stories of enslaved people that have been erased from foundational narratives of early Canada.

John Graves Simcoe, the governor of Upper Canada proposed an Act in 1793 to abolish slavery on the Canadian side of the border. Many people are shocked to learn that slavery was so popular that the legislature members many of whom owned Black and Aboriginal slaves, blocked Simcoe’s Act. Instead, they came to an agreement to not import any more slaves in exchange for retaining their rights to the slaves they already owned. Slavery remained legal in Canada until 1833 when Britain finally abolished this heinous institution in its colonies.

HUSH HARBOUR and The Resistance of Peggy Pompadour are two sonic walks I’ve created that tell stories from the point of view of early Black settlers in Toronto. The story I will create in Windsor will focus on the enslaved people owned by Francois Baby, heir to a French fur trading empire and a member of one of Windsor’s most elite families. The former house of the family is now owned by the city of Windsor and is the home of its Community Museum. Alana met with the Museum folks to gain their support for my residency. Their own research, in response to my interests, resulted in finding a book by historian Marcel Trudel called Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada. In this and other works, Trudel presents evidence that by 1759 New France had produced 3,604 slaves, both Black and Aboriginal. Brett Rushforth said In some areas, such as Montreal’s commercial district around Rue Saint-Paul and the Place du Marche, Indian slaves played an especially important role. There, fully half of all colonists who owned a home in 1725 also owned an Indian slave.”

Trudel listed over twenty slaves that were owned by the Baby family. The entries are in French and although I understand and speak a little French, boy, do I have a reason to become fluent now! Fortunately for me, Michelle Soulliere, a local artist whose practice engages with history, has offered to translate what I need from this book. She told me about Therese, an enslaved Black woman who was owned by Francois’ brother Jacques. At 24 years old she was sold to Francois along with her infant son Leon in 1785. Therese was freed in 1803 and died in 1826. Rosalie, Therese’s daughter, was given by Jacques to his daughter Elizabeth when she married Charles Casgrain. There is a street bearing his name in the city.

Michelle poured over the document to reveal its mysteries and then she revealed to me that she is actually a descendant of the Baby family!

I am convinced that my serendipitous encounter with Michelle on this journey is no accident.  Her presence in this project reminds me that it is my intent to provide a bridge between worlds and to create a path of empathy where we can encounter “the other” and find ourselves.