MAINSPACE EXHIBITION /
Colour, Value and Hue
April 8 – May 7, 2016
Color, Value and Hue is a solo exhibition featuring the work of Danièle Dennis that seeks to investigate the complexities and dynamics surrounding the visibility/invisibility of the racialized identity within the dominant society. Through video performance, material exploration and installation, Dennis considers the confusion, reluctance and overarching politics that often accompany discussions about blackness, identity and social structures. The exhibition offers a visual and conceptual manifestation of the artist’s inquiry into everyday encounters, a means that serves to also confront her own discomfort and tensions. Exploring the black narrative as counter discourse, Dennis embraces a level of absurdity by turning things commonly deemed as repellents or abject and repackaging them into things of beauty and value (and vice versa).
The exhibition Color, Value, and Hue features three recent works by Danièle Dennis, which decipher the complexities inherent to the contemporary Black female experience in North America. The video performances Try A Little Tenderness (2015), Color Me Bad (2015), and Tradition (2015) urge us to question Eurocentric standards of beauty: whose bodies matter, and, most importantly, what are we celebrating when speaking about Black women’s liberation and emancipation?
It is with this questioning spirit that Dennis captures the deep and entangled networks of symbols inside the complex relationships between colonialism, labour, race, and gender. Through her work, the artist builds on the qualities of the sensuous and the abject as she strategically employs food items and her body as performative materials. Color Me Bad deconstructs—through the materiality of mascara, Crayola black markers, blackberries, black pepper, and dirt—the wide range of harmful and reductive imagery associated with black bodies. Standing stoically, she stares at her viewers as she layers these carefully chosen products onto her bare body. Alluding to the rigid confinements of embodying the “other”, she borrows signifiers from well known literature describing: internalized colorism (such as The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life by Wallace Thurman), and the common fetishization of non-whites as exotic commodities ready for consumption (see academician bell hooks’ essay Eating the Other; Desires and Resistance). In addition, wordplay—suggested in the devaluing connotations of “dirt,” for example—mirror the complex system of layered meaning that define one’s worth.
The making of one’s self is undoubtedly intersectional, and the inquisitive nature of Danièle Dennis’s artistic practice highlights how her gender cannot be separated from her blackness.Remember the celebrated quote by Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a woman? While Black femininity is hypersexualized and portrayed as devious, the artist scrutinize the central role of whiteness in defining a “respectable” femininity. Within patriarchal discourses traits such as passivity, gentleness, patience and sensitivity sum up the epitome of a soft and non-threatening sensuality. Try A Little Tenderness (2015), makes an emphasis on how the limited tropes defining Black women in the media leave little room for images of vulnerability, carefreeness, and graciousness as the strong, loud, angry/sassy, and temptress archetypes dominate public perceptions. These projections onto the Black female body absolves the mass from digging deeper and critically introspect their own behavior when it comes to daily chivalry gestures and assumptions. Wet pieces of pink cotton candy adorn Dennis’ face in an attempt to both decorate and “sugar-coat” her reflection; she then proceeds to eat the candy, bit by bit, until only a few traces of sugar remain. As an operatic soundtrack fades, a shiver takes over Dennis’s body, marking both the end of her performance and the literal ingestion of the history of violence that haunts her positionality. Indeed, cotton candy (or fairy floss) is principally composed of refined sugar, a commodity whose history is inseparable from enslavement. The same is true for the rice used in the video performance Tradition: although the history of rice cultivation in the Americas is not overtly discussed in Dennis’ work, it holds an important place in terms of decoding material and ideological connections because of its complicated relationship with labour and oppression. Rice’s materiality becomes a “site” where the role of the grain as both part of commensality and celebratory religious ceremonials, also figures as integral in the formulation of cultural identities. Rice cultivation and slave agriculture in the Americas and the Caribbean are tightly intertwined in the creation of some of the most profitable economies in the world informing the value of the Black female body. The white rice buries her body, one handful at a time, as multicultural discourses erases Black history in Canada.
— Geneviève Wallen
Danièle Dennis’ experiences as a black Canadian woman inform her practice and prompt her investigation of racial, cultural and identity issues primarily through performance, material exploration and installation. She actively attempts new ways to disrupt and dismantle social norms and constructs, employing repetition and process-based experimentation to the use of everyday and often abject elements such as hair and food. Her work seeks to trigger within the viewer critical thought, self-reflection, and dialogue around uncomfortable yet relevant subject matters.
Dennis was born and raised in Montreal, and is currently based in Toronto. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto Scarborough. Dennis is also a co-founder of Y+ contemporary, an artist-run project space and studio.
As a curator and art historian, Geneviève Wallen is interested in issues of ethnocultural representational spaces in Canada. Wallen curated as well as co-curated a series of exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto such as Nia Centre for the Arts’ 4th Annual Visual Arts Exhibition, Exposed 2016; Solace, Scratching Where It’s Itching at Younger than Beyoncé Gallery, and There Is Always More Than What We Perceive at OCAD University Graduate Gallery. Geneviève Wallen has also been a contributor for Xpace Cultural Centre and is currently part of YTB (Younger Than Beyoncé) Gallery as a curator, volunteer coordinator, and board member.
This show is made possible with support from: