York prof’s exhibit explores life, work of social justice advocate

Cover of "Take Me, Take Me," a novella by Colin Robinson, edited by Andil Gosine

York University Professor Andil Gosine has curated a new exhibit called The Plural of He, exploring the life and work of the late Colin Robinson (1961-2021), a Trinidadian American poet and social justice advocate. It launches March 15 and will run until July 21 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York City, the world’s only dedicated 2SLGBTQIA+ art museum.

Andil Gosine
Andil Gosine

Gosine, whose academic focus is environmental arts and justice, recently told Trinidad and Tobago Newsday that although he had a professional relationship with Robinson that included consulting on various projects, he was surprised to learn he had been named the literary executor and custodian of Robinson’s archives. Before Robinson died, the pair discussed the idea of an exhibition inspired by the artist’s life’s work, and Robinson expressed enthusiastic support of it.

Titled after one of Robinson’s poems, The Plural of He features five newly commissioned works in which the artists – Llanor Alleyne, Leasho Johnson, Ada M. Patterson, Devan Shimoyama and York University doctoral student Natalie Wood – drew inspiration from materials encountered in Robinson’s archives: activist ephemera, carnival costumes and calypso music, letters, an unfinished novel, newspaper columns and poetry. Through their explorations of Robinson’s work, the artists discovered continuity between their lives and his, echoing and extending his pursuit of connection, community and justice.

“Because community building was so important to Colin,” Gosine explains, “I wanted connection itself to be the pulse of the exhibition: what resonated with me as I went through the archives? What resonances could I find between the artists and Colin in our conversations about the project? What resonances with the materials did the artists feel in their encounters with the archival materials?”

An undocumented migrant in the U.S. throughout the 1980s and 90s, Robinson became a powerful force in New York City’s queer, HIV/AIDS and feminist movements. He co-founded the historic New York State Black Gay Network and the Audre Lorde Project, and was director of HIV prevention at non-profit organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He was also a member of Other Countries, a literary collective for Black, gay men, and he published provocative essays in landmark anthologies, academic journals and newspapers.

Porky was loud by Devan Shimoyama.

His work continued when he returned to the Caribbean in 2006; there, he co-founded the critically important 2SLGBTQIA+ organization CAISO (Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation) and served as its “director of imagination.” A collection of Robinson’s poetry, You Have You Father Hard Head, was published in 2016, five years prior to his untimely passing in 2021.

Lauded as a godfather of the 2SLGBTQIA+ movement by many fellow activists, Robinson can be remembered by his writing, which he considered a form of activist performance. Each of the exhibit’s commissioned works engages a specific part of his archives to reveal different dimensions of his person.

“I want audiences for The Plural of He to encounter Colin in the fullness of his humanity,” says Gosine, whose book Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean details Robinson’s work. “When we get to know someone, we are privy to pieces of them, usually in non-linear fashion. We might learn about a hobby, their state of mind, their sense of humour. I want the experience of walking through this space to mirror the experience of getting to know a new friend.”

With this goal in mind, each new artwork in the exhibition is accompanied by short essays in which key figures in Robinson’s world reminisce about their connections with him in various contexts, from editing his weekly newspaper columns to dealing with heartbreak.

Public programming for The Plural of He will include readings of Robinson’s poetry and publications connected to the show. A limited release of a newly published novella rescued from Robinson’s archives – Take Me, Take Me, edited by Gosine, with cover art by Shimoyama – will be available for purchase, as will a catalog featuring each artist in dialogue with a major contemporary Caribbean writer.

For York University community members interested in the exhibit, York’s EcoArts initiative and the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean are co-hosting a local event on March 20 at 12:30 p.m. called The Plural of He: From Archives to Art, featuring Gosine and Wood in conversation and readings from Take Me, Take Me. The event will take place on the eighth floor of Kaneff Tower on York’s Keele Campus.

For more information about the exhibit, visit the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art’s website.