The crossroads of gender, identity, and futurism: Never Apart’s ‘Data Thieves’
New art exhibitions provide conversations about race and self through the lens of history and time
A two-part online exhibition being held on the website of Montreal gallery Never Apart, Data Thieves: What Our Archives Tell Us showcases the works of Yannis Davy Guibinga and Syrus Marcus Ware.
A ‘data thief’ cannot be defined. These beings, created by Ghanaian artist and writer John Akomfrah, are time-travelling entities with no fixed age or gender. They “can navigate into archives to correct things that happened in our past to be able to make us in the future understand our mistakes,” explained Michaëlle Serjile, one of the exhibition’s curators. It was the fluidity of this concept that inspired Serjile to put together the exhibition.
The curation of the works was a collaborative process between LGBTQ+ afro arts and film festival Massimadi and anti-colonial Black organization Nigra Iuventa. Serjile, who is also a project manager for Nigra Iuventa, explained that each organization had one artist in mind, “we saw the connections between those two artists and [...] we saw this exhibition as a way to create a space for us to be able to envision ourselves in a future where we no longer need to fight for things and can be at peace.”
“[Yannis Davy Guibinga and Syrus Marcus Ware] didn’t necessarily have this idea of data thieves but when we talked about [it] to them they saw the connection,” said Serjile. In the second part of the exhibition, which features Ancestors, Can You Read Us? (Dispatches from the Future) and Antarctica, Ware imagines a world “where racialized people have survived the ‘Black death spectacle’ [and] the crushing effects of white supremacy.”
Serjile said that the concept of the piece is “basically many characters from the future talking to us, we are like their ancestors, telling us ‘it’s okay, you survived. It’s okay, we no longer need to fight. It’s okay, you’re doing the right thing, it’s tough but in the end, it will be fine.’”
“[The concept is] basically many characters from the future talking to us, we are like their ancestors, telling us ‘it’s okay, you survived. It’s okay, we no longer need to fight. It’s okay, you’re doing the right thing, it’s tough but in the end, it will be fine.’” — Michaëlle Serjile
Despite the pandemic, Serjile said, Nigra Iuventa strives to continue to find ways to showcase artists from the Black community in Montreal’s gallery spaces. “We also try to connect artists that are emerging artists together to be able to create dialogues within the same space,” said Serjile.
The other half of Data Thieves, made up of the works Boy Wives & Female Husbands, Silicone Sunset & Eclectic Identity, and 2050, is a collection of photo series shot and styled by Guibinga. The images are a provocative, glittery, and fashionable delve into the uncertainties of self and time. Guibinga uses the camera to explore the trans and non-binary communities within Africa, the complex notions of gender, and the timelessness of Black beauty.
“I always start my pieces with the bodies,” said artist and designer Olivia Bretheau, who created the garments used in Guibinga’s shoots. “For me, there’s no female or male, there are non-binary questions.”
“We really bound on colours and shapes,” Bretheau explained. “It was really like putting my clothes into his vision.”
Bretheau, like many artists during COVID, has had to adapt the way she displays her art.
“This is not an end forever, it’s a transitional way to show your art,” said Bretheau, who dreams of delving into community-based performance art and live exhibits. “I think it’s a great thing that a platform like Never Apart can be able to encourage this and still be focused on art and community [and] the queer scene,” said Bretheau.
These exhibitions are available on Never Apart’s website until March 27.