Interview with Pamela Edmonds ~ Curator for Change!

Spoke with many interesting human beings including; Curator, Pamela Edmonds…

I know, there are moments in our lives when we feel incredibly grateful, those are my personal thoughts pertaining to my interview below. Pamela Edmonds is a woman who is willing to blaze her way for change, perception, ignorance of race and the rights of women through one simple word \”Art\” using a methodology that fuels adversity and empowers us to ask the important question \”why?\”

It is a tremendous honour to be able to document her life\’s past (Montreal), present (Toronto) and future (Europe) to the rest of the universe.

You are welcome to contact Pamela directly at: 

Rania: How many different jobs have you held in the Art field and what were they?

Pamela: Wow, that\’s hard to count!! I don\’t consider what I do a job really since it seems so integrated into my way of life. I studied Studio Arts, focusing on Painting and Art History at Concordia University in Montreal, then got into creating and programming experimental video and short films. After I graduated, I began organizing exhibitions, and eventually moved away from my own visual practice because I wasn\’t seeing as many of the type of shows I felt spoke to me personally, particularly as a woman of colour living in Canada. This was in the late 1990\’s when there was an increased awareness and focus on identity-based artworks and issues surrounding inclusion/exclusion within the mainstream. Artists began to seriously question the limited scope of artwork heralded within the Western artistic canon and its relationship to the real diversity of North American society. There was heated debates or \”culture wars\” brought on in large part by conservative groups in the United States who were advocating against art work that explored gay rights, AIDS, feminism, race mixing, anything that went against their ideas around so-called \”family values\”. I become more politicized at this time when it seemed liked artists and musicians who I most related began having their works censored or were given warning labels. I realized the importance of raising my \”visual voice\” so to speak against this squashing of the right to expression so that’s when I discovered that I what I really wanted was to be a curator and began to organize exhibitions mostly around the politics of representation.

Dawit Petros, The Porch, digital print from Re-mix, 
Prefix Institute for Contemporary Art, Toronto (2006)

Rania: How do you feel about interactive exhibitions and why?

Pamela: I believe that all exhibitions as interactive, creating art is really an attempt to communicate. Getting people to visit art galleries on a regular basis has become increasingly difficult because we have become such an image saturated culture, it’s harder to draw audiences with projects that will both educate and I suppose entertain, since we are also in such an entertainment centered culture in North America. It important to me that people somehow learn to see another perspective of the world that they may not have had before they enter that curated space and experience the artworks.

Rania: You have a vast repertoire of curated art theme\’s, which one is your favourite and why?

Pamela: One of the most challenging and interesting shows I’ve had the opportunity to work on was a a co-curated exhibition called “28 Days” which brought together contemporary artists from Canada, the US and the UK together to explore the staging of Black History Month. It was held in two venues in Toronto, and featured 19 artists, several of whom I dreamed of working with including Carrie Mae Weems. I was interested to bring Canadian artists together with their international contemporaries to explore current issues related to post-racialism, concepts which don’t get explored in this country very often but are quite prominent in global art dialogues.

28 Days: Re-Imagining Black History Month, installation at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, works in view, Wangechi Mutu (USA), Black Thrones,, 2012, sculptural installation and Godfried Donkor (UK), London Mob 2001 and Mama Calabah’s Chop Bar 2001, ink jet print installation (2012)

Rania: What was your least favourite show to work on?

Pamela: Well, I wouldn\’t be so bold to name it outright like that!! The artworld is too small, but I would say that one of my least favourite experiences as a curator was organizing an exhibition which contained beautiful photographs of black male nudes in outdoor landscapes (which were all tastefully shot mind you!) and I was told I had to be \”on call\” to the gallery in case someone complained about them, which was ironic because the previous show contained paintings of white female nudes which I suppose we are so used to seeing within classical European art without really questioning these images and how the body is used and viewed in this context.

Rania: You have won a selection of Awards, which one means the most to you and why?

Pamela: I would say the fellowship I received in university, when I was working on my Masters Degree in Art History at Concordia. It is awarded to the top student in the program for their academic achievement and research and it really was encouraging to me to receive this award because I felt pretty isolated in terms of my studies in documenting black Canadian contemporary art. There are still very few academic resources in this area, so it felt great to get support for what often felt to be an isolating yet important task.

Rania:  What tools do you feel are the best for marketing your exhibitions?

Pamela: Well I\’m a lover of art books and catalogues. Even though they can be so expensive to create, I consider it a luxury to even produce a publication for a exhibition now because of costs, at the same time it is so important to have a document that contextualizes artists work and lives, to have something that lives on after the shows have come down. And of course the internet has opened up so many avenues for artists to present and display their work through online exhibitions, websites, databases. They don\’t have to wait to curators or anyone else to decide where and what to present, so that is the one of the best tools because it open the work up to a global audience.

Rania: Do you have any art rituals before starting a new exhibit?

Pamela: I\’m not so superstitious. I just give myself over to the process.

Working on installation of Chiko Chikonzero’s exhibition Bounty at Gallery 101, Ottawa (2013)

Rania: What is the most recent exhibit you\’ve worked on?

Pamela: The last exhibition I worked on was a solo exhibition called “Bounty” by Chiko Chikonzero which was held at Gallery 101 in Ottawa. Chiko is an incredible artist who is originally from Harare, Zimbabwe. He studied art in Bulgaria and now lives in Toronto. His work, which featured photography, painting, video, installation and performance explored questions of access and sustainability through an interrogation of consumer culture. As someone who had to wait in lines in his native country for basic needs and supplies, this work looked at abundance in the West and how this in turn relates to questions of idealism and comfort. His work is an interesting hybrid of styles. integrating traditional Zimbabwean aesthetics with Western modernist techniques.

Chiko Chikonzero, Sitting Pretty (Tigere muupfu) from Bounty at Gallery 101, Ottawa, 2013

Rania:  What is your dream show?

Pamela: My dream show would be work with artist David Hammons and to install an outdoor art project in Nova Scotia (where my parents are from and I spent a good part of my life as both a child and adult). Hammons is known for his work in and around New York City where he would create outdoor installations in the street using cast off items such as old bottles and garbage really, he even tried to sell beautifully shaped snowballs on a city sidewalk. His work speaks of the black urban experience, using humour as a means of confronting cultural stereotypes and racial issues. His work is so smart and funny and poignant. I’m sure he would be a real challenge to work with, but I admire his bravado to speak his mind and stay true to his vision. Nova Scotia has an interesting history in terms of black Canadian settlement, having one of the oldest and largest communities in the country, including the former community of Africville. I think it would be interesting to work on a project that incorporated Hammon’s perspective on the various sites there.

Rania: Diversity in the Arts is so important, please tell me what made you want to participate in this Art presentation “B(l)ack To The Drawing Board: Re(Envisioning) Art, Identity Politics and African-Canadian Feminisms”, Art Institutions & the Feminist Dialectic, Ontario Association of Art Galleries in Toronto?

Pamela: As someone interested in art and politics, it is important to be to explore how systems of power, especially “white supremacist patriarchy” as bell hooks calls it, effects people within contemporary culture. I was interested in participating in this symposium because it brought together various artists, academics and gallery professionals to look at how feminist art has been collected, displayed and written about (or not) within Canadian art institutions. I was part of a women’s arts collective called Sistervisions in Nova Scotia and we presented annual exhibitions which explore the creativity and concerns of black women artists. In 2001 we had an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and it was the first contemporary group exhibition exploring black culture in that institution’s over 100 year history which I was quite proud of at the time. However it showed me that that there remains unrepresented stories to be brought to fruition.

Rania: Where would you like your career to be in 10 years?

Pamela: I would love to be able to have a broader international career, to be able to do more residencies in different countries since I am very interested in the diverse cultures of the world. It would be great to work (or even own) a cooperative space or gallery and resource centres that engages artists from all over the world and acts as an incubator for the experimental creative processes.

Rebecca Belmore. Untitled, digital print from Screening Alterity (co-curated with Carla Garnet), Art Gallery of Peterborough (2012)

Rania: Do you enjoy travelling research to query for new show opportunities?

Pamela:  Yes, visiting new places is one of the best things about independent curating. One of my favourite cities is London, UK where I did a curatorial residency through Canada Council for about six months. There is such a wealth of interesting spaces there, art seems to be everywhere and so many people, from young to old engage with it as part of every day life.

Rania: As a curator what do you feel is more important: education or experience and why?

Pamela: Both are important, but I would say experience. I didn\’t set out to be a curator, and I didn\’t study curating as a profession, it\’s quite a new field in terms of educational programs offered. I do feel besides the practical process of making art, the conceptual side is essentially philosophical, so I do feel it is important as a curator to be interested and engaged with ideas. Hands on experience working in different types of venues, from museums, artist run centres, public galleries, co-op spaces and more, has taught me to always be adaptable and to learn to problem solve because one can have a great concept in the mind for a project, but there are so many variables, like working with the limitations of the architecture of a gallery space that makes it the type of process which in part always contains elements of surprise (sometimes chaos!) which I thrive on anyhow, so I think it’s good to be open to the unexpected.

Rania: What is your favourite Artist medium to work with?

Pamela: I\’m often seduced by the power and magic of video installation, to be immersed in a darkened space with the moving image and sound.

Rania: Please tell what you want to accomplish with \’Third Space Art Projects\’?

Pamela: Third Space is a curatorial collective I co-founded with Sally Frater. Together we are interested in exploring ideas related to the rise of new internationalism in art, meaning we are interested in presenting art projects that engage with intercultural dialogues and aesthetics. As the world’s people’s change within a global context, so do new voices develop. We are concerned with how culture can be re-interpreted away from traditional Eurocentric concepts of modernism.

Rania: What is your worst experience as a curator?

Pamela: I enjoy the entire process, from conceptualizing an idea to the execution, I especially love doing the layout and working with the design of a space, although this can be also be quite restrictive. One time we built a room for Egyptian artist Hassan Khan, when I was working at A Space in Toronto. We reconstructed the entire gallery, building a room for his four channel synchronized video installation and sound work called “The Hidden Location” which explored urban life in contemporary Cairo. I remember being at the gallery into the wee hours of the morning trying to paint perfect squares to fit the screen projection on all four walls and then having to make sure each of the corresponding audio tracks and video tracks were sequenced to play together in exact time, it was an amazing feat!! The show was remarkable as is the artist, it was just the most intense installation I ever took part in.

Rania: What advice would you give an emerging curator?

Pamela: Immerse yourself in art, see it, read about it, write about it, think of new ways of re-interpreting it.

Rania: What inspires you to keep working as a curator?

Pamela: Artists inspire me. I admire them because I know how brave, dedicated and passionate you have to be to consistently create and develop a practice. It is a fiercely competitive environment with few monetary gains and full of lots of critics who often misunderstand you!

Rania: What is the strangest exhibit you\’ve attended or worked?
Pamela: When I was in the UK I had the opportunity to see an amazing range of exhibitions. I got see and experience, “The Clock” by Christian Marclay at the Hayward Gallery. It has since shown here in Toronto at the Power Plant Gallery and has been highly acclaimed around the world. It is a remarkable video installation/projection created as an ode to cinema and is made up of over ten thousand film and tv clips compiled into a 24-hour real time movie. I sat for hours watching it, though I didn’t get through all 24 hours! Not only is it an amazing feat in research, to find films that correspond to almost every minute of the day for an entire 24 hours, it made me strangely aware of my body’s own clock, of the times we live in through this incredible montage, and of curating itself as a mode of design and story-telling. It was abstract and random but at the same time the story lines seemed to all connect. Plus I loved the idea of being able to be in a gallery at 4 am!

Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2012)

Rania: If you were a super hero what would your super human power be?

Pamela: To fly. I would love to be able to see more of the world and to experience it from different vantage points, especially from the air, that perspective would be incredible.

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