Between entirely black walls, multimedia works of art evoking the experience of the black community echo. In this new exhibition titled Concealed Cultures: Visualizing the Black Vernacular, the Surrey Art Gallery allows seven artists living in Canada to explore the experience of black people as a minority. Among these works exhibited until December 11, the photos of Michèle Bygodt catch the eye.
The exhibition Concealed Cultures: Visualizing the Black Vernacular: an evocative series of portraits to discover. | Photos by Michele Bygodt
The artistic research behind the poses of each portrait contrasts with the simplicity of the black and white photo. The Vancouver-based photographic artist chooses to suppress colors in order to reduce distractions and focus on what matters most: emotion. Michèle Bygodt’s portraits elegantly highlight the movements and emotions of her subjects. By focusing on bare bodies that have become works of art, the artist consecrates their beauty without dehumanizing the subjects, thanks to his talent and the expressiveness of the poses. “I am fascinated by the way a person can be directed towards the posture to adopt and can almost be transformed into a sculpture. What is very different, however, is that a person is not just a body. In front of their eyes, their gestures and their poses, you feel this emotion which is transmitted to you”, explains the photographer.
The very title of the series of photo portraits is evocative: gnol means Body in the Fang language, spoken by the artist’s mother, belonging to the ethnic group of the same name, found in Gabon, but also in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. “I remember I didn’t want to call this project Body, but I couldn’t think of anything else either. I remember having a conversation with my mother about the project. I asked him what was the word for “body” in the Fang language. When she told me, I thought ‘that’s it’”, says the artist. By comparing these bodies magnified under the lens of the camera to an African language, it is also possible to appreciate the beauty of these bodily expressions from another cultural angle. Because it is not only a question of admiring the work of an artist or the grace of the subjects, but also of questioning the relationship of each to the body and the color of the skin. Michèle Bygodt notices herself that working on photo portraits allows her to work introspectively. “It sheds light on how I perceive people. It’s not just about the person in front of the camera. I learn a lot about myself by taking photos of others”, specifies the artist. This introspective work and this broader reflection on society and its relationship to skin color are at the heart of the exhibition. Concealed Cultures: Visualizing the Black Vernacular. “This project was and remains an emotional response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others,” she explains.
And the works of Michèle Bygodt invite the public to discover this exhibition with an open mind. By entering the Surrey Art Gallery with curiosity to discover the works of these artists and learn about the experiences and feelings of others, it is then possible to appreciate these works and these testimonies of artists for their deep humanity. “The more we talk about it, the more comfortable we feel with each other and the easier it is to have difficult conversations. People have to overcome the idea of race, color, separation, difference. We all have to accept the fact that we are the same”, explains the photographer before concluding: “What differentiates us is our origin, our cultural milieu. But we all feel pain, joy, anger, anxiety, love, hunger…. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can find ways to give everyone an equal place.”
For more information on the exhibition Concealed Cultures: Visualizing the Black Vernacularvisit: www.surrey.ca/arts-culture/surrey-art-gallery/exhibitions/concealed-cultures-visualizing-black-vernacular
To learn more about the artist, visit: www.michelebygodt.com