A Harlem Nocturne

Deanna Bowen, Theatre Under the Stars’ cast photo from Finian’s Rainbow, Circa 1953, 2019. Credits: SITE Photography

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Deanna Bowen, Theatre Under the Stars’ cast photo from Finian’s Rainbow, Circa 1953, 2019. Credits: SITE Photography

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A Harlem Nocturne

Curated by Kimberly Phillips

Exhibition presented by OBORO, Ada X and GIV
Circulated by the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts



The three artist-run centers of 4001 Berri – OBORO, Ada X and GIV – are pleased to present Deanna Bowen's first major exhibition in Quebec.

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: figures and events that have remained below the threshold of visibility not because they are impossible to find but because their existence reveals a systematized racism difficult for the majority culture to acknowledge. Bowen reactivates historic material sourced from overlooked archives through a process of extraction, translation and enlargement, and then reinserts this material into public consciousness in a new form.

A Harlem Nocturne presents a terrain of research that Bowen undertook in Toronto and Vancouver over the past three years, recovered from civic documents, newspaper clippings and numerous personal and organizational archives. These materials trace a series of interconnected figures—many of them part of Bowen’s own family—who formed an integral part of the Canadian entertainment community from the 1940s through the 1970s. As Black bodies living and working in a settler colony underpinned by institutionalized racism, they were at once invisible and hyper-visible, simultaneously admired, exoticized and surveilled. They enjoyed certain celebrity in their local milieu but also endured differing degrees of bigotry, segregation and racial violence. 

Bowen’s aim is to posit a powerful counterpoint to common narratives that oversimplify historical narratives of Canada's complex and vibrant Black presence. She reminds us that even seemingly insignificant documents can be rich repositories for unintended readings, and for questioning who has been charged with writing our histories and why.


Two video programs related to the exhibition will be presented by the Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV).The first will be available online, free of charge and throughout the duration of A Harlem Nocturne. The second one will be screened at the GIV’s premises, every Wednesday from September 16 to October 14 at 2:00 p.m. Two special presentations will be held at the opening of the exhibition, on Saturday, September 12, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (reservation required for all on-site screenings).

The artist gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Kato Alexander, Christopher Behnisch, Kaitlyn Bourden, Seika Boye, Justine A. Chambers, Cineworks, Damien Eagle Bear, Lovena Fox, Tarick Glancy, Sylvain Hamburger, Ahlam Hassan, Bynh Ho, Georgina Jackson, Jessica Johnson, Mamito Kukwikila, Shaista Latif, Joan Mann, Scott McLaren, Julie Mills, Muddu Gopal Rao Patti, Silver Lining Post, Colin Preston, Alysha Seriani, Melanie Simpkin, Leora Smalley, Cecilia and Roger Smith, Josh Stevenson, Joshua Vettivelu, Abigail Whitney. At Western Front, the artist thanks Aram Bajakian, Allison Collins, Ali Denham, Lief Hall and Ben Wilson. She also thanks EDAM, Kokoro Dance, Banff Centre for Arts Creativity, Black Stone Press, CBC Archives, Estate of Stanley Mann, Publication Studio, Swan Dive Bar in Toronto and Theatre Under the Stars. 

A quick riff was produced in residence at OBORO’s New Media Lab. Special thanks to Charles Ellison.

ON TRIAL The Long Doorway was commissioned and produced through a partnership between the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, and Mercer Union, a centre for contemporary art, Toronto. Production support provided through a Media Arts residency at the Western Front, Vancouver.

French subtitles, Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV).

For the video works presented at OBORO, thanks to Marie Lauzon for the French translations and to Manon Labrecque for the subtitle integration.

Deanna Bowen in conversation with Kimberly Phillips: A Harlem Nocturne from OBORO on Vimeo.


Presentation of A Harlem Nocturne by the partners at 4001 Berri (in French)

Deanna Bowen, "A Harlem Nocturne" from OBORO on Vimeo.



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Deanna Bowen

Deanna Bowen is a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist whose practice examines race, migration, historical writing, and authorship. Bowen makes use of a repertoire of artistic gestures in order to define the Black body and trace its presence and movement in place and time. In recent years, Deanna’s work has involved rigorous examination of her family lineage and their connections to the Black Prairie pioneers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Creek Negroes and All-Black towns of Oklahoma, the extended Kentucky/Kansas Exoduster migrations, and the Ku Klux Klan.