The Power Plant’s Upcoming Exhibitions Explore Definitions of Self

Art has facilitated explorations of identity since the days of the earliest cave paintings. Today, that theme is as critical as ever, as centuries-old notions of self are being deconstructed. It’s a global discussion that the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto is actively contributing to this winter with three new exhibitions by a trio of artists hailing from around the world.

Alicia Henry, Brown, Red, White, and Blue, 2012–2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: John Schweikert.

In the Fleck Clerestory and North Gallery, find “Witnessing” by Nashville-based artist Alicia Henry. Working in textiles including cotton, linen, leather, wool, and felt, Henry depicts faces that reference minstrels and the circus while exploring social relationships. These anti-portraits allude to the tradition of portraiture but do not represent specific people; rather, they evoke generalized representations. Exhibition curator Daina Augaitis says Henry’s work brings an international perspective to this season’s programming. “This enables our diverse audience not only to see themselves reflected in the portraits and art-works on display, but also to reach across cultures to find the similarities between themselves and others; and, where those similarities end, to foster empathy and understanding,” she says.

Omar Ba, Afrique, Pillage, Arbres, Richesses, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the artist.

Painter Omar Ba will be presenting “Same Dream”, his first institutional solo exhibition, in the Royal LePage Gallery. Ba, who splits his time between Dakar and Geneva, uses his work to explore the complex relationship between Europe and Africa. On display will be several pieces from his series on dictators—oil, watercolour, ink, and pencil depictions of those who drive corruption in many countries. “As a counterpoint to the dictator series, we are also presenting paintings that speak to Ba’s affinity for portraying the strength of the universal human spirit, particularly those paintings of the women who have had an influence on his life, and depictions of the youth who share their dreams and desires for the future all over the world,” says exhibition curator Nabila Abdel Nabi. It’s this ability to depict his own narrative alongside collective ones, explains Abdel Nabi, that creates a connection between older and younger generations. “It’s also his global perspective, which evokes an idea of a shared cosmogony between humans, plants, and animals.”

Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Hunting Monsters), 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Feheley Fine Arts/Brad van der Zanden.

Representing a uniquely northern perspective is Inuk artist Shuvinai Ashoona, based in Kinngait, Nunavut. Located in the McLean Gallery and the Canadian Tire Gallery, Ashoona’s exhibition “Mapping Worlds” surveys a selection of works on paper produced over the past two decades juxtaposed with more recent drawings. According to Nancy Campbell, who curated the exhibition along with RBC curatorial fellow Justine Kohleal, Ashoona is best known for developing a highly personal iconography that challenges expectations and stereotypes. “With imagery ranging from closely observed naturalistic scenes of her Arctic home to strange, monstrous, and fantastical visions, she evokes altered states of mind and shifting perceptions,” says Campbell. Infused with imagery from horror films, comic books, and television, Ashoona’s drawings merge contemporary media with everyday narrative, breaking with forms of representation used by previous generations of Inuit artists. “Positioning Shuvinai as a contemporary artist, and not just an Inuit artist, challenges outdated expectations of what Inuit art should look like and helps Inuit artists gain international profiles outside the traditional Inuit market system,” says Campbell. No matter how an identity grows and changes, art will always be there to express it.

The Power Plant’s winter exhibition season is on view from January 26 until May 12, 2019.