September 10, 2019 – Fall 2020
Off-site at The WALL at the CBC Plaza, 700 Hamilton St
Deanna Bowen’s artistic practice concerns itself with histories of Black experience in Canada and the US. Her focus is the “dark matter” in our midst: that which remains overlooked, not because it is impossible to ﬁnd but because it is uncomfortable to acknowledge, due to the systematized racism it might expose. Through her work, Bowen asks demanding questions about who records history, reactivating historic documents from overlooked archives through a process of extraction, translation and enlargement, and then reinserting this material into public consciousness in a new form.
Over the past two years, Bowen undertook research in Vancouver to trace a series of intertwined ﬁgures who formed an integral part of this city’s Black entertainment community from the 1940s through the 1970s. She mapped a constellation of nightclubs, theatres and hotels where they gathered, many of which have been erased from the city’s physical fabric and collective memory, but exist as traces in archives. Her aim is to posit a powerful counterpoint to common narratives that oversimplify the city’s historical Black presence here.
Night Prowl captures part of a film frame from a CBC news story that aired in October 1959, reporting on the dramatic purging and forced closures of many nightclubs in Vancouver’s ethnically diverse east end. Racially-motivated anxieties around such nightclubs—and the neighbourhoods in which they were situated—fueled the calls for urban renewal that would displace and disperse Black communities in the coming decades. Depicting the marquee of the Blue Sky dance club, its neon light extinguished following the bar’s closure earlier that same month, the image is interrupted by a series of circular voids: visible fragments of batch numbers punched through the cellulose ﬁlm at its time of manufacture. The holes are a banal artifact found at the end of any ﬁlm reel, but for Bowen, the ruptured cellulose reminds us of ﬁlm’s fragile materiality and undermines our ability to trust photography’s seductive promise of “truth”. Considered this way, even blemished and seemingly insigniﬁcant documents can be rich repositories for unintended readings, and for questioning who has been charged with writing our histories and why.
Curated by Kimberly Phillips
The WALL is a Vancouver Heritage Foundation public art initiative presented in partnership with CBC Radio-Canada, the City of Vancouver Public Art Program, and with additional support from JJ Bean Coffee Roasters. The WALL features a new artist every year.