Osgoode’s artist in residence amplifies the stories of Black Canada
Anique Jordan (BA ’11, MES ’15), artist in residence at Osgoode Hall Law School for the 2018-19 academic year, doesn’t do things halfway when it comes to staging performances.
In January, she helped bring together 100 Black women and gender non-conforming artists for The Feast, a performative dining exchange at the Art Gallery of Ontario that shone a light on the absence of Black women in the Canadian art history canon.
Her first solo show, called Ban yah’ belly, is coming up at Zalucky Contemporary as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in May.
But first, there’s Evidence – a free two-hour performance, including eight artists that Jordan will present as the culmination of her residency, on Wednesday, March 27 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Gowlings Hall Atrium at Osgoode. The performance will draw on archival information from various sources, including the Osgoode Law Library, to examine gender, justice and the believability of Black women.
In particular, the performance will work with imagery and text found in the case and life of Clara Ford, a Black, Toronto-born woman accused in 1894 of murdering a wealthy white man who, along with a group of other men, assaulted her.
“Evidence is a performance of the legal history amounting to the entirety of the life we know of Clara Ford,” says Jordan, an award-winning artist, writer, curator and innovator who received the Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award in 2017 and the Hnatyshyn Foundation Artist Award in 2018. She was recently co-curator of the AGO exhibition #EveryNowThenAGO.
“Evidence asks for an acknowledgment of the traditions of Black women, trans and queer folks who continuously carve out spaces of subversion and liberation in a world that would rather view the survival strategies of the Black body as something to be feared, forbidden, registered and rendered disposable,” she says.
Jordan notes that the history of Clara Ford is one that is meticulously documented through tabloids and newspapers. “I have read through the legal texts surrounding her case and the contexts of 1890s Toronto to explore the questions: How have Black bodies created spaces of existence in a world that would rather destroy them? What does she offer us of our own means of survival? When it comes to the archives of Black Canada, blackness is primarily located in two places: the church and the court house. How can we use the story of a single Black Toronto woman to understand and further the complexities of Black life in this city?”
Throughout Evidence, newspaper commentary and quotes will be read and sung, said Jordan. A soundscape will engulf the performers, and Ford’s case will be illuminated in relation to other similar cases from the mid-1800s to the present day. The chorus will be part jury, part church choir, offering a recounting of events with the jury of peers that Ford had requested. Using the visual gestures and vocabulary from Ford’s lifelong work as a tailor, the performance artists “will draw, cut and sew together in a ritual of care and memory-making.”
“To have the space to toil through these legal texts and archives, to learn the story and life of a woman who was such an OG (original gangster), provides another example of our agency even through an unjust system,” said Jordan, who holds two degrees from York. “And how we understand what this history means now depends on who is doing the looking. Canadian legal history is as much about our present as it ever was.”
Osgoode’s Artist in Residence program, which began in 2013, brings together artistic creativity with the exploration of justice and the law. Annually, Osgoode brings in an artist or artists, from any discipline, to work on projects focused on interpreting legal history, examining law’s realities today and imagining law’s future, whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world.