BY ALYSSA MAHADEO
The articulate refinement of classical art forms has been paramount in the development of culture, heritage and the practiced ability to speak through the means of more creative and ostentatious mediums.
In light of the official inauguration of Black History Month, the Afro-Caribbean community has actively come together in an effort to shed some light on the achievements of their ancestral counterparts. Local African-Canadian artist Robert Small has been working for twenty two years using artistic expression to create his own legacy of inspiring works of art that showcase influential citizens of Black heritage highlighting their achievements and encouraging others to build their own legacy.
As a Canadian native, born here in Toronto, Robert’s Bajan roots tie him to the deep cultural history of Black heritage and culture. Since 1995 he has been painting colourful and distinctive pieces of artwork that depicted the faces of some of the most influential leaders within the Afro-Caribbean community. His pieces are meticulously researched before paint touches canvas and all convey a powerful message, one of hope and freedom, encouraging a world filled with endless possibilities.
Robert is a self-taught artist who once aspired to travel to New York and become a comic book illustrator. Originally on a path towards a legal career, earning a degree from The University of Windsor in Sociology and Criminology, Robert had high hopes of becoming a lawyer having been accepted to law school and completing the necessary prerequisites. Unfortunately after being involved in an accident, his life took a different turn into the world of the visual arts. Appealing to his creative mind Robert took up painting. He created the concept of the Legacy Poster as a way to promote Black History in the city.
While pursuing his art, Robert completed a teaching degree at York University, hoping to use his new platform to educate young minds of the Black community about their heritage and culture. He found that the school system at the time didn’t reflect the needs of Afro-Caribbean youths and it hadn’t advanced enough to meet the demands they would face in pursuit of their future careers. Using his skills as an artist, Robert created an activity booklet that would appeal to kid’s interests and educate them in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math to stimulate their young minds. The STEAM activity booklet is filled with historical facts, drawing activities and higher level thinking questions with fun cartoons in comic style medium and offers a little bit of everything to encourage the growth of young and creative minds.
This year the Legacy Poster is a tribute to celebrating the arts. Appropriately titled ‘Art’s Dawn’ the colourful and detailed painting depicts four well known individuals immersed in the creative works of this era, including photographic artist and curator Michael Chambers, multi-award winning singer/songwriter Liberty Silver, multi-disciplinary writer, visual artist and stage performer David Woods, and storyteller and inspirational speaker Sandra Whiting. The importance of celebrating the arts in every form is a testament to the impression it leaves on those that experience the passion behind those creative works. Each artist has used his or her talent not only to entertain, but also to inspire and cultivate the next generation.
Each of Robert’s paintings is a powerful conversation starter that sparks emotions of pride and invites more people to learn about Black History and the people who have shaped the foundation of this rich and vibrant culture. “We are all living different parts of other people’s legacy and my hope through these paintings is to leave my own legacy behind for my family, and also for the community to remember,” explains Robert.
In addition to his Black History month posters, Robert has also introduced works of art in recognition of Asian Heritage and Women’s History month to include the diversity of living in a multicultural city like Toronto. The Legacy Posters are meant to encourage the next generation of young artists and to inspire them to use their talents to write their own stories through the words of movement, visual arts, spoken verses or musical literature. Promoting Black History through this colourful medium has spoken in volumes and touches everyone involved in very emotional and thought provoking ways. This contribution to Afro-Caribbean heritage will remain a vital part of celebrating the Legacy in years to come.