I never imagined her like this before. But there she was, my Nana, at the age of 4, bright eyed and smiling, on the front steps of the family apartment. At first sight, I was brought to tears. Could she have imagined the untimely death of her parents at a young age? Could she have expected that being a parent to her younger siblings would be her fate? What was it like to become a guardian against eager social services, ready to split the family apart? All of this as a young Black woman in 1940s Montreal. So many questions. Not a lot of answers. Until I asked.
I started talking with my Dad. Then, my Aunty shared this envelope of family photos. Bit by bit, story by story, the picture became clearer. My Nana didn’t just live in Montreal, my Nana lived in a working-class neighbourhood of mostly Italian, Polish, Ukranian and Indigenous people. My Nana wasn’t just a parent to her siblings, my Nana and her siblings were held by a community. The same community that kept watch for social workers, provided activities for all ages and offered aid to those in need. All of this was a far cry from my growing up in The Big City, Toronto. How did we get from there to here? And what does that mean for who I am? It’s these questions and many others that I try to answer in Aesthetics of the Archives. If you’re curious to know more, feel welcome to visit the Art Gallery of Burlington until August 23. You might just leave with questions of your own.