Afro Drag: Ancestors past, present & future at the Phi Centre

Here’s what’s happening for Black History Month in Montreal

Highlights of the cultural and historical programming, and how to take part in a respectful way

As part of Black History Month in Montreal, the MAC is presenting Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, the 2016 video by artist Arthur Jafa. Set to Kayne West’s song “Ultralight Beam,” the video “grew out of the recognition of the widespread circulation of images of the abuse of black bodies on YouTube.” The montage that Jafa created in response cuts together clips of black political and cultural icons with videos both of everyday life and of violence committed against black people by the state. It is dizzying. 

Upstairs from Jafa’s installation, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1982 Scénario du film Passion is playing as part of the MAC’s archival show of video work, Points of Light. In the film, Godard’s silhouette announces: “Voici la blessure universelle” (“Here is the universal wound”) and while Godard may be expounding on the creative process, having just watched Jafa’s video – immense and in the darkened gallery, a very different experience from seeing it on YouTube – I found it impossible not to hear “blessure universelle” as anything other than a metaphor for what racism has cleft into all of our lives, and which generations of many ethnicities struggle to heal. 

This year’s Black History Month expressed hope through its focus on young people, as symbolized by its spokespeople, the singer Sahramée and the comedian Aba Atlas, along with 13 selected laureates: Svens Telemaque, Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, Rito Joseph, Hanna Che, Harry Julmice, Paul Evra, Oumar Diallo, Paul Harry Toussaint, Fatima Bah, Mariana Djelo Baldé, Isaiah Joyner, Fatima Wilson and Shaine Nicole. Michael P. Farkas, president of the round table on Black History Month, says of this year’s theme, “HERE AND NOW,” “Let’s draw inspiration from the youth’s commitment and its curiosity and open ourselves up to others and to new discoveries throughout the month.”

Here are just a handful of the events happening this February to mark the 29th edition of Black History Month in Montreal.

Black History Month Montreal Highlights

Feb. 6, 15, 23 & 29: Nuits d’Afrique Series

Music shows “focused on Africa’s new generation of artists and spokespeople” will be taking place at le National, le Ministère, and that most beautiful of vinyl-boothed show bars, Club Balattou.

Feb. 8: 30 Years in 1 Night at Evangel Pentecostal Church

“Montreal’s longest running Gospel radio show – Mind Soul & Spirit – will celebrate its 30th anniversary on CKUT 90.3FM.” The show will feature performances by Audrey DuBois Harris, Jean Jean, the Fitz-Patrick Sisters, Priscilla Findlay and more.

Feb. 14 & 15: Leurs Histoires at the Phi Centre 

An exhibition and panel series organized by Collectif Elles presents “20 female Quebec artists of African descent” from across many different disciplines.

Feb. 21: Afro Drag: Ancestors past, present & future at the Phi Centre

“An interactive theatrical journey drawing on ancestral knowledge of black queer history” and narrated by BiG SiSSY, whose bio describes them as none other than “a gender-bending, booty bouncing, perversion of funk, fully equipped with an arsenal of pop music.” 

Feb. 20-29: Massimadi

The Afro LGBTQ+ Film and Arts Festival is now in its 12th year, with events at la Sala Rossa, the McCord Museum, Concordia’s J.A. de Sève Cinema and Maison d’Haiti and a line-up “where queer Afro-descendant artists envision the future by digging into political, migratory, social and environmental issues.”

Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27: Being Black in Montreal Series

Historical conferences and panels are happening on Feb. 6, 13, and 20 at CEDA, including a highly pertinent investigation into blackface’s manifestation in Quebec, as well as a screening and discussion on Feb. 27 at the McCord Museum of Black Indians, a documentary about “people of dual Indigenous and African-American heritage.” 

Montreal Listings

In Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, a young black woman asks “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?” That it’s not enough to love a culture if you support the oppression of the people making it may sound obvious enough, but oppression is sly and takes many forms. So, what to do to combat oppression and to venerate black culture and black people this February? As a white writer who talks about culture, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to appropriately take part in Black History Month, and I keep coming back to the empathetic potency of memory; that when you internalize not just a cultural product but its creator, they become a part of you and the story you tell about yourself.

So, in addition to urging everyone to go out and support the many (over 150!) events going on this February as part of Black History Month in Montreal, I think white people in particular can honour black communities by doing their homework. Think of it as critically necessary, but also joyful: learn about a black artist or filmmaker whose work speaks to you; about a black actress and the roles she’s played. Read something by a black author; read it again. Do some research, in other words, the basis of all history, and let it sink into you. 

When you take in Jafa with Godard, you see both differently. The greater the cultural breadth you internalize, the closer you are to destabilizing the power structures hidden so deep within yourself that you no longer perceive them, and maybe the closer you also come to seeing that universal wound for what it is. ■

You can also visit the Black History Month Montreal website for their full listings.

Additionally for our latest arts coverage, please visit the Arts section.