The current exhibition at The Gallery at Queen’s Park, “Guilty As Skin,” is a brave call to action against the systemic racism of our justice system. Artist Crystal Noir brings vulnerability and strength to her sculptures and canvases by showing black identity in relation to the continued oppression by the police and those in positions of authority.
Each vibrant piece shows its subjects in segmented forms that bring to mind the intentional dismantling of BIPOC communities by the outside forces that Noir mentions in her artist statement.
In Noir’s pieces, however, this dismantling reveals the true power of the people she presents. From within the heads of the figures in her paintings, symbols of strength emerge: clenched fists, a bomb held within a clamshell, and in the case of the piece Injustice System, a dove.
In this painting, a female form is surrounded by barbed wire, with a tranquil-looking dove sitting upon one of the spiralling barbs. The wires create a cage that, while intimidating, gives perches for the bird to soar from.
Walking through the show, there’s a tactile feeling of dialogue between the work and the viewer. In this sense, Noir uses the language of afro surrealism to communicate her voice. With double meanings and the mentioned symbols, Noir is deliberate with her words. Bold choices such as custom metallic colours that illuminate in low light conditions, and impasto brushwork synchronized to the state of each subject’s psyche, her technique also speaks to the points she makes in more overt ways. It creates an eloquent bonding of form and function that gives the viewer even more to consider.
With many shows, it’s easy to see the work as it exists solely within the gallery walls, a physical space for escapism. But Noir reaches beyond these parameters to remind us of what’s outside the frame of our perspective.
Speaking as a non-BIPOC person, it’s easy to make a habit of thinking the worst is behind us. After the murder of George Floyd, and the rise of Black Lives Matter into mainstream culture, it felt like a moment had been reached that would snuff out the flame of systemic racism. But this ignorance is in itself complacent with thinking that the system somehow works and will correct itself. As seen with the recent murder of Tyre Nichols by police officers (and the countless other crimes that go without media coverage), the system remains broken.
“Guilty As Skin” is an important show, especially as Canadians often consider themselves outside the realm of the oppression that is more recognized in the US. Noir shows us that these crimes exist, especially in the places you assume they don’t.
In that way, Noir’s art creates a bridge to conversation that reverberates long after you leave the gallery’s walls.
You can visit Guilty As Skin until February 26
For more info, visit: artscouncilnewwest.org/galleryexhibit
Gallery at Queen’s Park: Take the Skytrain to 22nd St. Station, and catch the #155 Braid Station via Hospital bus to 1st. Street. It’s about a ten-minute walk from there!
To further plan your route, you can use the TransLink Trip Planner.