Artists Quentin VerCetty and Danilo McCallum put futuristic spin on Black History Month

Black History Month is about honouring those who came before us and paved the way for today’s Black people and culture. The fourth annual Black Future Month 3016 art exhibition uses contemporary and digital art to create a new, more modern way of thinking. It offers an opportunity to change the way Black History Month is viewed and depicted.

“When we talk about Black history, often in western society, [we] think about slavery, we think about the common narrative of being stolen from Africa and us having to deal with shadism,” explains Quentin VerCetty, co-curator of this year’s exhibit.

“… Yes, we’ve been through turmoil, yes we’ve been through trauma, yes we’ve been through all these different things, but how do we move on … how do we grow … and how do we prosper? Black Future Month is all these different possibilities.”

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Creator of Black Future Month Danilo McCallum (l) with co-curator Quentin VerCetty (r). // © Chantal ‘Rose’ Gregory & Urbanology Magazine

VerCetty is one of 18 artists whose work is featured in the showcase; each piece of artwork – ranging from digital art to oil paintings – has its own unique meaning often addressing current-day social issues with a futuristic twist.

One of VerCetty’s exhibited pieces shows the bust of a young, Black woman from his neighbourhood, Rexdale, looking off into another dimension with different landmarks from the Greater Toronto Area behind her. Above her, in the sky, is the planet.

“The whole idea of that is the Black sub-consciousness is like another world, another galaxy, another terrain.”

“The whole idea of that is the Black sub-consciousness is like another world, another galaxy, another terrain, so I want to take people there,” explains VerCetty, who calls himself an ‘artivist’ and ‘afronaut’.

Just like VerCetty’s futuristic piece, the event and its name came to life because of creator Danilo McCallum’s forward-thinking mindset.

“It just came about, because my work has to do with the future, that instead of just celebrating Black History Month … I’m going to flip it and go into the future because that’s where my work is anyways,” explains McCallum.

McCallum recalls the time he posted the concept on FaceBook and was overwhelmed with positive feedback. ‘[Black Future Month] concept equals winner’ was one of comments that still stands out to him to this day.

The concept gained the attention of Gwyn Chapman, youth engagement and development special adviser to Toronto Mayor John Tory, who says it’s vital to support the Black community and shed light on local artists and events like the 3016 exhibit.

“To me, Black Future Month means that our young leaders are actually taking some time to think about, dream about and have a vision of what their life will be and can be in the future,” says Chapman, who is also president of the Canadian Black Caucus.

“This is an opportunity where I get to think about not only tomorrow, but many tomorrows from now.”

One of the pieces in the exhibit is a vivid self-portrait of artist and oil painter, Tennesha Skyers, which was partially inspired by the ankh – an Egyptian symbol representing life. For Skyers, Black Future Month is about intertwining knowledge of the past with modern day expression and creativity.

“We’ve become more acceptant of our past and also more aware of our future and how much progression we have inside of our potential,” she says.

According to McCallum, what began as a solo exhibit has grown into several initiatives and events. He and his team will hold their next exhibit in March, titled Black Toronto 2116. It will explore Black history in Toronto in order to examine what it will look like in 100 years.

“We’ve now left just doing stuff in February, let’s continue doing work throughout the year,” he says.

“Growing up from the hood, we never got to think about tomorrow, because we were so caught up in just trying to live for today,” adds VerCetty. “So now this is an opportunity where I get to think about not only tomorrow, but many tomorrows from now, and my contribution to it.”

The Black Future Month exhibit is showing until February 20, 2016 at the Ada Slaight Gallery Space (100 McCaul St.) and the Graduate Gallery (205 Richmond St. W.) in Toronto, with a satellite location at the Art Gallery of Mississauga.

All Photos: © Chantal ‘Rose’ Gregory & Urbanology Magazine