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Polygon exhibit highlights African diasporic culture from both sides of the Atlantic

‘As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic’ runs at the North Vancouver gallery Feb. 24 to May. 14

Photography remains one of the most powerful mediums to celebrate the human experience.

As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic is a new exhibit at The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver that’s designed to celebrate Black life by drawing from cultures around the Atlantic. The show runs Feb. 24 to May. 14 with an opening reception Thursday at 7 p.m. featuring DJ Still Running.

The images are drawn from the Wedge Collection, established by Toronto art collector and dentist Dr. Kenneth Montague. The collection features works from influential contemporary artists including Gordon Parks, Malick Sidibé and Carrie Mae Weems, to illustrate a varied sense of community and family.

The exhibition, curated by The Polygon’s Elliott Ramsey, is dedicated to the Wedge Collection as featured in a 2021 book of more than 100 photographs from African diasporic culture.

“The Wedge Collection brings together rare images, iconic photographs, and new works that reach across continents and over decades,” Ramsey said in a statement. “From the 1930s Harlem Renaissance, through post-colonial Bamako, to contemporary Toronto, As We Rise celebrates the polyphony of Black life – and the nuanced approaches of Black photographers in representing these scenes of love, leisure and resistance.”

According to The Polygon, the exhibition’s title is borrowing from a phrase of Montague’s father: “Lifting as we rise.”

“By this, he emphasized the importance of parlaying one’s personal success into communal good. He believed in investing back in the community to which he and his family belonged. As an ethic, ‘lifting as we rise’ suggests an expanded sense of family, one that reaches beyond close relatives,” reads the statement.

Highlighted works include:

’70s Lifestyle (1975–78) by Samuel Fosso, a legendary photographer known for self-portraiture in various personas, is seen as a young teenager, styling himself in fashions of the day;

Sunday Morning, Detroit, Michigan (1950) by Gordon Parks, an icon of civil rights-era photography;

Rude Boy, Brooklyn, New York (1982) by Jamel Shabazz, who was photographing in Brooklyn as hip hop was emerging a force in the global music industry.

In 1997, Montague established the Wedge Collection, which is now Canada’s largest privately owned set of works committed to championing Black artists.

Texts in the exhibition are adapted from the related book As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), on sale at The Polygon for $65.

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