The Circle Of Ubuntu – Celebrating the voices of BIPOC creatives

Lady Dia and Trophy Ewila

Curated by the 2021 City of Kelowna Artist in Residence Lady Dia, Co-curator, Trophy Ewila, and project leader Binta Sesay in collaboration with the African Caribbean Student Club, The Circle of Ubuntu exhibition in the FINA Gallery expresses and celebrates I-BPOC stories. The Circle of Ubuntu highlights and commemorates the works produced by Black UBCO students: Jane Udochi, Garvin LeBlanc, Binta Sesay and Black students outside UBCO Nyashadzashe Dube also known as Moonsundiamond and features Sylix high school student Kristine Mike.

UBCO’s African Caribbean Student Club (ACSC) centers around African and Caribbean student
representation and focuses on building a sense of identity that celebrates and honours their cultures and histories. Guided by the philosophies of Ubuntu, “I am because you are,” ACSC was formed in response to the need for community support for the African Caribbean Students in Kelowna.

The curation of this exhibition came to be through the sustained relationships the artists’ built from the House of Hope. One of the foundations of the House of Hope, alongside the principles of Ubuntu and ACSC, is the “I am because you are” philosophy which emphasizes the approach of “allowing the light of others to shine without diminishing their own shine.”

ACSC was a huge support in making this exhibition come into fruition as they wanted the Black
community and their members to have space to express themselves creatively. “Art which shares a story was one of the fundamental factors in determining which art could hold space. We also looked at the desire from the artists to do art, as well as knowing that art is something these artists use and need in order to Be. When selecting the art, we also thought it important to seek out artists who are trying to find opportunities to share their works in the community” says curator Trophy Ewila.

Lady Dia explains that exhibiting in the Fina Gallery, especially as Black and Indigenous students outside of the BFA program is important as it pins a new chapter in the connection and the conversation around space, real inclusivity and the accommodation of people’s stories, not subject to the white gaze.

“For the first time in this city, there is an opportunity to begin a city-wide conversation on real non- performative actions on matters of diversity and inclusivity. The choice of the Fina Gallery at UBCO is crucial because it tells the story of how UBCO (as an institution) and its students play a major role in influencing the culture of this city,” she says.

While the demand for a space where I-BPOC creatives can freely express themselves is growing, the availability of these spaces is lacking and is badly needed. This exhibition is then a monumental moment for I-BPOC creatives as it provides the space for I-BPOC creatives to freely “express their stories publicly.” Lady Dia even states that “the general public and the administration of this university still [don’t] understand how much of an anomaly this whole exhibition is,” proving the desire for space and the prejudice that surrounds it. Lady Dia emphasizes how through this exhibition they try to “implore public institutions to seek to build stronger relationships with the organizations that are representing the voices of I-BPOC to create opportunity for non-performative inclusivity.”

The main takeaway from this exhibition was to “see the joy that people get from seeing the quality of art done by students who are creating art to sustain their mental well-being and creating beauty out of very tough situations.” Trophy Ewila also notes how “Black people are more than a body, we are more than racialized beings, we love, we cry, we smile, and we make beautiful things. Beauty is ours too. We have beauty. We have our own eyes, and we are beholders of our beauty. We are celebrating our liberty to BE.”

Not only is The Circle of Ubuntu a celebration of I-BPOC creators but also a deeper look into the more personal and concealed philosophies and beauties of I-BPOC artists that chose to honour and celebrate their opportunities through their art.

The Circle of Ubuntu was on view in the FINA Gallery from October 6 to 14, 2021.

View the Exhibition

This post was written by Eun Jee, an Art History and Visual Culture major in FCCS. Eun Jee is currently working this fall as the Communications Assistant as part of the UBCO Co-op program.