Call for Submissions. BLACK PORTRAITURE[S]: Toronto, Absent/ed Presence

Image: Installation view, ​Sandra Brewster: Blur,​ July 24, 2019 – March 29, 2020 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Work shown: ​Untitled (Blur)​, 2017 – 2019 © Sandra Brewster Photo: AGO

BLACK PORTRAITURE[S]: Toronto, Absent/ed Presence, 2021

You are invited to participate in the annual Black Portraiture[s] Conference, to be held online and in-person at Ryerson University, October 14 – 16, 2021

“To live in the Black Diaspora is I think to live as a fiction — a creation of empires, and also self-creation. It is to be a being living inside and outside of herself. It is to apprehend the sign one makes yet to be unable to escape it except in radiant moments of ordinariness made like art.”

 — Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return (18-19)

For Black Portraiture[s]: Toronto, Absent/ed Presence, 2021 (BPTO), we invite artists, researchers, and scholars to explore Blackness as absent/ed presence in art, art history, performance, archives, museums, cultural production, and technology. Presenters are encouraged to consider Blackness as unfixed, ungeographic, invisible and hypervisible, opaque, local and global, while asking: What is the role of abstraction in representation? What are the opportunities and limits in logics of representation? How can we, as thinkers and artists, realize new ways of seeing and what can be found therein? What is the current state of Black creative labour? What are methods for attending to that which the archive absents? What can be learned from all that evades archival capture? How might we imagine Blackness into and out of art’s past, present, and future?

Rinaldo Walcott’s assertion of Blackness in Canada as “an absented presence always under erasure” (41) describes a fraught cultural landscape within which Blackness and Black cultural production are continually displaced but wherein Blackness remains “a sign which is never closed and always under contestation” (43). M. NourbeSe Philip similarly reflects on “a certain kind of creativity and innovation” possible in thinking Blackness in “the space that is Canada” (67); a space she explains is characterized not only by its past and present colonialism, racism, and dispossession, but also its complete disengagement with African diasporic cultures. The violence of the Canadian colonial project is grounded in a long legislative history of absenting Indigenous and Black people through conquest, assimilation, and displacement (see Truth and Reconciliation Commission FindingsAfricville, HalifaxHogan’s Alley, Vancouver; and Little Jamaica, Toronto examples). This theme asks us to think about what absence creates and what absence demands.

Absent/ed presence, in this case, refers to the common occurrences of deletion and disregard, but it also encourages a dislocation of Black study. We encourage presentations that push beyond a binary opposition to whiteness and its attendant frameworks, beyond frames, beyond screens, beyond circumscribed territories and waters, beyond the nation and empire. And in this world, dramatically shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and an escalation of state-backed police brutality—both of which disproportionately target Black peoples—we invite the reclaiming of resistance, uprisings and revolts for Black life and liberation that have been subject to historical erasure.

In addition to presentations, BPTO invites local and international artists to apply to be part of an ‘Interactive Studio Visit’ taking place online during the 2021 conference. If you are an artist who would be interested in inviting the Toronto and international community into your studio space for a quick virtual visit and tour, let us know! Submit your name, location, and biography through our submission form.

BPTO plans for a hybrid conference that will allow for in-person and online attendance and participation. Please know that participants will *not* be required to present in-person. Please indicate your preference of presentation format (online, in-person, or either) on the submission form.

The health and safety of our participants and attendees is our top priority. We will be closely monitoring local and federal public health policy from now until the event itself. If in the months prior it becomes prohibited to hold large in-person events, we will move BPTO entirely online. Presenters will be kept up to date on all developments in this regard.

The deadline for proposals of abstracts, discussions, and papers is March 15, 2021.

Presenters will be notified of their acceptance in mid-May 2021.

The Ryerson Image Centre and the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University are proud to host the conference Black Portraiture[s]: Toronto, Absent/ed Presence in 2021.

If you have any questions, concerns, or need help with the submission process, please don’t hesitate to contact us at