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Deanna Bowen

Venue: Gropius Bau

Deanna Bowen

Born 1969 in Oakland, US – lives and works in Toronto, CA

Deanna Bowen’s auto-ethnographic, interdisciplinary practice deconstructs historical records to reveal the racialized undertones of contemporary North American cultural identity. A descendant of African Americans who migrated north in the Jim Crow era to escape persecution, Bowen has used her own genealogy in a number of recent works to reconstruct certain episodes of Canadian history that have been marginalized in conventional accounts of tolerance and diversity. For example, her work 1911 Anti-Creek Negro Petition (2013) uncovers the discrimination African Americans faced once they reached the border, along with the collective effort to block their influx in the form of a petition signed by many influential individuals. Archival materials sourced for this work reveal one of these signatures as belonging to Professor Barker Fairley, a champion of the so-called Group of Seven painters whose uninhabited landscapes helped define both a regional painterly tradition and national identity, while erasing the territorial disputes that threatened white hegemony.

Bowen’s research on Fairley led her to the digital archives of the University of Toronto’s Hart House, where she chanced upon the script for the 1922 play The God of Gods written by theater director Carroll Aikins, featuring a caricatured cast of Indigenous characters originally performed by white actors. In the resulting installation, The God of Gods: A Canadian Play (2019/20), Bowen employs archival images and documents to visualize the networks of powerful individuals whose political and cultural influence guaranteed the suppression of non-whiteness in Canadian life. An accompanying film shows a conversation between Bowen and Indigenous artists and writers John G. Hampton, Peter Morin, Lisa Myers, Archer Pechawis, and cheyanne turions that debates the (im)possibility of reenacting the play in a contemporary setting.

Michèle Faguet


Transcript: Deconstructing God of Gods



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