MakeRoom Inc. Collection

What does joy as an act of resistance mean?

MakeRoom Inc. curated this collection through an open call to investigate this question. Six artists were selected; their works explore recollections of Black traditions and histories, testaments of Black presence, and inspired imaginations of Black futures.

The works remind us that Black history and identity is not only about sadness and mourning, and that Black joy is a vital act of resistance against systemic injustice and a powerful connector for community. We invite you to reflect on the importance of art in building a sense of togetherness, in Black joy, and in resistance.

More than just a space that Canadians transit through, Union station is also a space-maker for culture and art, and a role model in community investment for accessible public art. Union’s partnership with MakeRoom Inc. was born out of a shared mission to create spaces for local artists that are inclusive and diverse.

Frantz Brent-Harris—

This is a photograph of one of my sculptures that I sculpted in clay and digitally altered using Photoshop. The sculpture is part of a series of works called Afrophillia and is about the beauty, joy and love of people who are African and have African Ancestry. I was inspired by the generation of young Black people who are driving a shift in self perception and changing our global consciousness of Blackness to appreciate its immense value, diversity, and beauty. By rejecting respectability politics and refusing to be identified with narratives of oppression, they can instead identify with the joy of being human; Black Love and Joy is a revolutionary act.

Frantz Brent-Harris

Frantz Brent-Harris is a Jamaican born artist based in Toronto working in the medium of sculpture. His current work is predominantly figurative and explores the complexities of identity politics. Through his work he explores the constant tension of double consciousness and cognitive dissonance that alters the psyche of Black, African and Caribbean people navigating the society and culture of Canada.

Adetona Omokanye—

I started the “Spiritually Fashionable” collection in 2020 when I went to document a religious festival called “Anyodolu” in Lagos, Nigeria. My initial aim was to document cultural practices for historical purposes but then I was caught up in how fashionable the religious figures of this festival were looking. By juxtaposing religious figures called “Egúngún” with models wearing contemporary African fashion, I invite my audience to visualize the Egúngún as a fashion spectacle and aim to show how belief systems, tradition, and culture shape contemporary fashion styles. My choice of juxtaposing male masquerades with female models as complements in my digital collages is a deliberate attempt to create a gender-based antithesis.

Adetona Omokanye

Adetona Omokanye is a Nigerian visual storyteller and filmmaker based between Lagos, Nigeria and Toronto, Canada. His photography has been published widely on Time, The Guardian, Getty Images, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, The Globe and Mail and Al Jazeera. In 2019, he won the Creative Bursary Award on Disability stories with his project, “Beyond 4 foot- 10 inches’’ from Getty Images. In 2022, he won the LensCulture Summer Open Award with his “Spiritually Fashionable” project.

Danyal Barton—

This piece is inspired by the many lives lost in my community. Since I was 18, a number of my friends and members of my community have lost their lives to gun violence, leaving my community continuously in a state of shock which eventually grew into desensitization to these recurring tragedies. In the black community it’s common to call your friends your “Dogs” and hearing my community talk about losing their dogs inspired me to create this piece and use the movie title “All Dogs Go To Heaven” as a play on words for “All Black People Go To Heaven” to celebrate the lost lives of my community and to resist the stigmas that come with black lives that are lost in vain.

Danyal Barton

Danyal Barton is an Artist from Brampton Ontario who uses photography as his art form to create and share the stories of his community as well as the influences of his life. He sees his environments as a canvas and uses his camera as a paint brush to show the world from his unique perspective. Danyal’s goals are to continue to grow as an artist, inspire his community, and share his stories throughout the world. Danyal truly believes anything is possible.

Rae Clair—

Black is a colour of unity; It is the presence of all the primary colours.

I was raised in the Jane and Finch area by my mother. I have watched her move gracefully through this life; she taught me optimism, courage, and above all else: joy. That’s what this art represents.

I dream about the future and what that will look like for us — a society that fully embraces advancement, not just in technology, but also in radical racial acceptance. A society where our culture — the beauty, the art, the colourful expressions of resistance — is not just mocked up and repackaged, but blended into an advancing society.

Rae Clair

Rae Clair is a Toronto-based artist who creates stunning portraits in digital and oil mediums. She incorporates traditional techniques with modern technology to create a unique, stylized aesthetic. Her work has been exhibited in several galleries in the city, earning her a reputation for her technical proficiency and emotive style. By capturing the beauty and emotion of the human face, Rae invites viewers to connect with her subjects on a deeper level.

Elicser Elliott—

When I was a child growing up in the West Indies, a lot of the Vincentian culture captivated me. Growing up in St Vincent, I felt like if you didn’t look like you come from somewhere, you’re not somebody. This has changed since the mid-90s, but back then I was meant to feel that if I had my hair in dreadlocks, an afro or cornrows, I couldn’t get a nice job or have a good living. I had to rebel against this. I knew there was another way to live your life and be authentically you. So it has been an ongoing rebellious struggle, giving me pride and pleasure to grow my hair out like this. To Black people, our hair is our crown. So there’s joy in the rebellion of wearing our hair the way we want to wear it.

Elicser Elliott

Elicser Elliott is a Toronto based aerosol artist whose creations adorn the cultural landscape here and abroad. As an integral part of downtown Toronto’s street art community for over a decade, he has been recognized for his artistry and praised by both street and fine art collectors all over the world. His work has been featured in a multitude of publications, hung in prestigious galleries like the Art Gallery of Ontario, and for a number of years he had his own installation in the Royal Ontario Museum.

Jibola Fagbamiye—

Jameela glides through a futuristic version of Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, holding a book by Toni Morrison - “”Beloved”” in her hand. Hogan’s Alley was an important Black neighbourhood that was destroyed around 1970 to construct viaducts for a freeway that was never built. It serves as a reminder of the systemic oppression faced by Black and Indigenous communities.

Art has the power to transport us to alternate realities and inspire us to imagine a better future. By centring on themes of Black liberation, beauty, and joy in my work, I aim to evoke hope and inspire change in the world. Through the power of imagination and art, we can break free from our current paradigms and work towards a brighter and more equitable future.

Jibola Fagbamiye

Jibola Fagbamiye is a visual artist based in Toronto. His work draws inspiration from his two great loves: African history and North American pop culture. He uses a hybrid of digital design and traditional painting with influences of propaganda poster art, pop art and graphic novels to celebrate that history while inviting viewers to question their presumptions on consumerism, culture and normality.