Exploring Family History Through Art At Rodman Hall Art Centre Workshop

News from Brock University in St. Catharines

Posted July 16th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – Old family photos were given new life during a special Brock workshop held last week.

Chidera Onyegbule and Osaze Usuanlele make cyanotypes, an early type of archival photography, using images from their families’ histories. Fifteen youth aged 14 to 18 have been participating in the week-long workshop, which is a partnership between Rodman Hall Art Centre, the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, and the City of St. Catharines.

Fifteen young artists from St. Catharines spent the week working with Visual Arts Professor Amy Friend to explore their family history and create new works of art.

During the workshop organized by Rodman Hall Art Centre, participants used camera-less photography techniques on their familial documents as they conceptualized, planned and executed their artwork.

“The program takes key ideas from Rodman Hall’s summer exhibition Carry Forward, such as how social and political biases get carried forward into how history is recorded, into the everyday lives of youth living in Niagara,” says Elizabeth Chitty, Rodman Hall Programming Officer.

Chitty worked with community organizations and teachers to invite young artists from culturally diverse backgrounds to participate.

Students spent several days at Rodman Hall exploring the ideas presented in Carry Forward, such as the complex history of documentation and power relations, engaging with colonialism, propaganda and authenticity.

Participants were asked to consider how Rodman Hall itself is an archive, Friend says.

“Students were encouraged to think about what an archive is, what it means to look at documents related to their own lives and how to use the archive as an art form to explore histories not well known.”

Working in the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts darkroom as well as outside, the young artists used cyanotypes, silver gelatin prints and mixed media to engage with their own histories.

Ness Griffin never met her grandparents or her extended family. Her family’s connection with their Haudenosaunee culture was cut in the Sixties Scoop.

Working with reproductions of family photos that she made during the workshop, Griffin scratches out faces to represent her loss of connections with extended family.

 “It was a hard decision to make to cut up the photograph because it is deeply personal,” she said.

Chimera Onyegbule also worked with photos of family she never met. Her great grandfather was born to a British father and Nigerian mother in the colonial era in Nigeria.

“I call this piece The White Flag,” she says. “He’s like the white flag in a war between two sides.”

The Grade 11 student at Holy Cross Catholic High School recently visited an aunt in London, England, where she learned more about her great grandfather.

“I’ve always wanted to know more about my family history,” she says. “It’s important to keep stuff like this alive.”

The pieces created through the special program will be featured during a public exhibition that will run until Sept. 2 in The Film House lobby of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.

The public is invited to attend the exhibition’s opening on Tuesday, July 17 from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.

Carry Forward is on at Rodman Hall Art Centre until Sept. 2.

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