BY SARA MILLER
Mounted in a simple black frame, the young, bright eyes of a Sierra Leonean child stares back into the camera lens belonging to photographer Sherry Prenevost. Prenevost was in the West-African country working and volunteering with the Centre for Development and Peace Education, a non-profit organization that facilitates workshops and organizes programs that supports community development, health and education. In another photograph entitled “Elders”, an older group of women pose stoically for the camera. Her black and white photographs depicting the lives of local Sierra Leonean villagers are just a few of the stunning art available for public viewing at the “Together We Rise,” an exhibit paying homage to the lives and contributions of African people presented by the Artist to Artist Foundation.
The Artist to Artist Foundation (AAF) is a non-for-profit charitable corporation whose mission is to use art as a medium to encourage change in communities with particular attention to disadvantaged ones. In addition to working with local groups and organizations in and outside the art community, the aaf also provides support and leadership to artists who need help in areas of funding, skills, expertise and resources. Located in the Weston-Mt. Dennis area at 1 Victoria Avenue West in Toronto, the recently renovated space is also available to paid members and the community to use as a meeting space, print shop and artist studio.
The idea for the foundation was started by a group of locals in the neighbourhood who believed that the arts and its artists help play an essential role in transforming their own communities.
“As artists, what we strive to do is to really expose the neighborhood to its competencies. We believe that the arts can tap into that vein and really do something earth shaking and inspiring to the community of Weston,” said co-founder and Executive Director of the Artists to Artists Foundation, Jacklyn Thomas.
“We aim to do some transformative things in the community. We partner with other groups and organizations to do projects but we don’t just jump partner to partner. We make sure that the vision of the group is compatible with ours and are committed to giving back to the community.”
In another photograph, a young man is seen walking on a white sandy beach, the clear blue ocean only a short distance away. Held to his ear is a small rectangular radio, which the young man uses to closely listen to a local cricket match. In another, a man covered in black paint is seen hunched over, resting after hours of traditional Grenadian festivities. The photographs are taken by Ian P. Grant, one of the artists who is also featured in the “Together We Rise” exhibit. With his camera in one hand and his sharp eye for interesting subjects, the Grenadian born native has extensively travelled to places such as Aruba, Italy, Brazil, Honolulu and Yugoslavia. A self-taught photographer, Grant is able to capture picturesque scenes with the utmost detail, clarity and most importantly, imagination.
“It’s something I enjoy doing and I like images that attract me, that tell a story. I try to capture these wherever I go,” Grant said.
“I like to go out and see how the [subject] relates to me and hopefully relates to people out there.”
In the corner of the gallery, two pieces depicting the silhouettes of African women balancing pots on their heads, hang on the white wall. Colored brightly using a mixture of yellow, blue and red acrylic paint, the figures seemingly jump off the canvas, an effect artist Sheryl Keen wanted to convey.
“I use a lot of modeling clay to achieve this 3-D effect,” I also use other objects like sand, wood and twine to get the effect I want,” Keen said.
When she is not busy painting, Keen can also be found writing stories, publishing two novels entitled “Journal According To John” and “Lost at Running Brook Trail.” She also writes poetry.
“Ever since I could remember, I was either writing or drawing,” Keen said.
“I always like to express myself through art and words. Though they are different, they both tell a story.”
Works from other artists in the exhibition include Amira Alamary, Getachew Fantu, Maritza Sanchez and Georgia Fullerton.
The Together We Rise exhibition will run from May 15th to 29th and is located at the AAF artist’s gallery at 1 Victoria Avenue West.