AGO Welcomes Caribbean-British Art: ‘Life Between Islands’

On December 6, 2023, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) welcomed the groundbreaking exhibition “Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s-Now.” This unique showcase, hailed by The Times as “highly evocative” and praised by the UK Guardian as “exhilarating, mighty, and tender,” is making its North American debut in Toronto. The exhibition highlights the profound influence of Caribbean art and thought on British art history over seven decades, shedding light on the creativity and resilience of over 30 Black British artists.

Curated by David A. Bailey, Director and Artistic Director of the International Curators Forum, and Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain, “Life Between Islands” at AGO is curated by Julie Crooks, the Curator of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora. This extraordinary exhibition explores how Caribbean-British artists shaped new identities, communities, and cultures in Britain, often in the face of adversity and discrimination.

Barbara Walker The Sitter 2002

The exhibition features a diverse range of artwork, including videos, installations, textiles, paintings, and photography, created by artists such as Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, Isaac Julien, and many more. Their work reflects the intersections of poetry, film, activism, and music, showcasing the rich tapestry of Caribbean-British artistic expression.

According to Julie Crooks, AGO Curator of Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, “This exhibition invites us to continue the conversations the AGO began in 2021 with Fragments of Epic Memory, to share great art often unseen here in Canada and to consider the extraordinary impact that the Caribbean diaspora has had in Britain and globally. The scale, richness, and power of these artworks defy easy categorization and need to be seen.”

“Life Between Islands” derives its name from Jamaican-British writer Stuart Hall’s memoir, “Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands.” It tells a multi-faceted story in four parts, dedicating itself to the memory of the influential Trinidadian artist Horace Ové. The exhibition showcases the evolution of Caribbean-British art, from the modernist engagements of the ‘Windrush generation’ to the activism and cultural reclamation of the 1970s and 1980s, the resurgence of Carnival, and the political urgency of the Black Arts Movement in the 1980s.

Denzil Forrester Jah Shaka 1983

Adding a unique dimension to the AGO presentation is artist and playwright Michael McMillan’s immersive installation, “The Front Room: Inna Toronto/6ix,” which invites visitors to step into the front room of a Caribbean immigrant family in suburban Toronto during the 1980s.

Visitors can delve deeper into the exhibition through the fully illustrated hardcover catalogue published by Tate Britain and an anthology titled “Liberation Begins in the Imagination: Writings on British Caribbean Art” from Tate Publishing and the International Curators Forum.

Admission to “Life Between Islands” is free for AGO Members, Annual Pass holders, visitors aged 25 and under, and Indigenous Peoples. AGO Members get the first look starting December 6, 2023, while Annual Pass holders and single ticket buyers can enter from December 8, 2023. The exhibition will run until April 1, 2024.

Sonia Boyce, Missionary Position II, 1985. Watercolour, pastel and crayon on paper, Support: 123.8 × 183 cm. Tate. Purchased 1987. T05020. © Sonia Boyce (Copyright Visual Arts-CARCC, 2023) Photo: Tate.

To celebrate the exhibition’s opening, the AGO will host an all-ages opening party on December 8, 2023, featuring legendary musician Jazzie B, of Soul II Soul, as the DJ. On December 9, 2023, Jazzie B will engage in a conversation with Toronto-based rapper, producer, writer, and activist Cadence Weapon.

As part of AGO’s winter programming, more talks, screenings, and studio courses related to the exhibition will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 1950s-Now” is organized by AGO and originated by Tate Britain.

This exhibition is generously supported by Contributing Sponsor Appleton Estate Rum.