Last week marked the opening of Never Apart’s winter exhibitions. The exhibitions feature work by “several Afro-Diasporic artists on the occasion of Black History Month, as well as artists exploring the themes of migration, borders, and more.”
One of the most engaging of these works is Pueblo Mágico: Border Stories. Directed by Linx Selby and co-curated by Selby and Morgane Lecocq Lemieux, the piece is both an installation and short film. You enter the dark projection room by walking past a cinder-block wall dotted with personal items and flickering lights. Beside the wall is a large illuminated map of the U.S./Mexico border. The room is shrine-like and evokes the poignancy of road-side memorials but also the cool darkness of an old church. The sense of its being sacrosanct seems to rest precariously between the homemade and the institutional.
It’s a fitting home for a short film that succinctly presents several humanizing vignettes about the people for whom the border seems more like a gravitational force than a geopolitical division. In Pueblo Mágico we meet Hispanic-American teens who cross into Mexico to party. They’re variously hubristic and nervous, chatting about the cheap club beers and their own tenuous legal position while walking along dark suburban roads, all with the casual and easy knowledge of immigration law one imagines their lives demand. We also encounter the tiny and athletic Shura Wallin, an older volunteer with the Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritans, an Arizona-based group whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to migrants along the border. She picks her way through the debris migrants leave behind — camouflage, backpacks, broken water jugs — calling out in her unabashedly American accent, “Somos amigos.”
Pueblo Mágico, somehow, is not a despairing or a sentimental film. The interviews are remarkably matter-of-fact. When one teen shrugs and says, “I’m just Hispanic, that’s it,” it’s all the more moving. It’s so telling, somehow, of a private inner world that’s his alone and of which the fluid border is just one part.
The photographic works in the exhibitions share in this sense of an interiority rendered only partially visible. Schaël Marcéus’s Cream Filled Chocolate Candies consists of eight portraits, gathered over two years, of young black people who share in his experience of growing up in Montreal as “a second-generation immigrant of the African and Caribbean diaspora.” All of Marcéus’ subjects are photographed in their own space, but he frames in close enough to eschew the background details that many environmental portraits afford us. There are few hints of these people’s lives — no paintings or photos on the walls, no objects, no pets. And yet they feel unexpectedly intimate, like people you barely know but who you’ve chosen to confide in.
Life in motion
Similarly, the photo series by Gaëlle Elma, A Hazy Collision, holds us at a dreamy distance. Elma, who “thought she wanted to be a dancer,” obviously retains some of that knowledge. The literally hazy series, presented by Festival Massimadi, “challenge(s) harmful ideas about… sexuality, human bodies and blackness.” Part of Elma’s strength in this portrayal is in her sensitivity to motion. Her ability to capture moments appear half-staged and half happenstance. Her recognition of these poignant gestures is evident throughout. In a half-released embrace or in a kind of lovely gawky waltz. Throughout, the photos breathe.
Never Apart’s winter exhibitions manage to tackle diaspora culture with a deeply compassionate and global sensibility. It’s an excellent way to spend any Saturday afternoon. ■
Never Apart’s winter exhibitions are on at 7049 St-Urbain through April 4. The space is open Saturdays 12-5 p.m., for free.