Kanyika Yorke arrives early and nervously sits in a corner peering occasionally at some of the art lining the Trane Studio walls.
As guests begin filing into the cozy studio on a warm evening last Thursday, she takes note of their faces and expressions as they review the pieces on display at the opening of the HerStory Speaks exhibit.
One of five artists selected to participate in the one-week show that ends today, Yorke has been eagerly awaiting the launch date. It’s the first time she has had the opportunity to showcase her artistic talent in a public setting.
“This is exciting,” she says. “This is the first time that I am showing off my work in the community. It’s also great because I am doing it in this kind of environment where I am surrounded by other young Black and talented female artists. It’s really inspiring.”
She feels particularly good because some family members and her Jamaican-born mother, Doreen, a child life specialist at Montreal’s Children Hospital, are there to lend support and show their appreciation. (Her Kittitian-born father, Dr. Gosnell Yorke, the dean of graduate studies at Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica and a former translation consultant with the United Bible Societies Africa area, was unable to attend.)
An assistant in the office of Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) vice-president, Sarah McKinnon, Montreal-born Yorke resided in the United States, Kenya and South Africa before returning to Canada to complete her undergraduate degree two years ago in Visual Arts with a Cross Disciplinary Certificate in Digital Media at York University.
She has been dabbling in art forms, including visual arts and dance, from a very young age.
“I have stuck with visual arts because it’s more accessible and it has allowed me to be more experimental,” Yorke, who attended high school in Johannesburg, said. “My work focuses on the empowerment of females. I also like to deal with images from mass media advertising, re-contextualizing them in a way that creates a more tribal and ethnic feel to my work. I (also) have an interest in portraits because I like to study faces.”
Unlike Yorke, 17-year-old St. Augustine Secondary School Grade 12 student Camille Gordon turns up late because of rush-hour traffic she encounters traveling from Brampton. The technically gifted Gordon, the youngest artist in the exhibition, brings an impressive resume to the table that includes a 93 per cent academic average and a highly successful auction she organized a few months ago at her school that raised nearly $2,000 for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
The Canadian Urban Institute 2010 youth award winner hopes to hone her artistic talent at OCAD next year.
Gordon was the first artist selected for the show by curator Alyssa Fearon.
“Camille’s older sister (Monique) is a friend of mine and when I went to their home a few months ago, I was very impressed by Camille’s work. I think it’s amazing and I had to have her.”
Fearon did not have to go far to find the next artist. Her aunt-in-law, Kathy Moscou, wife of the Dean of Ryerson University’s Raymond Chang School of Continuing Learning, Dr. Gervan Fearon, is a self-taught artist whose work has been displayed at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Centre in Seattle and the Caribana Visual Arts exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Aspiring photographer Jaden Artiste, a friend of Fearon’s, and Suritah Wignall complete the roster.
“Suritah is in a lot of art shows that I attend and her work certainly caught my eye,” said Fearon.
A passionate communicator, Wignall’s paintings are filled with confidence, colour and light and she focuses on portraits that honour and express her African roots.
“I am inspired by the African form, our beautiful features, succulent soul food and the rich complexions that coat our skin,” said Wignall whose portraits were featured on the set of the TV show, ‘Da Kink in My Hair’.
Fearon, 22, said she conceived the idea for the exhibit about three months ago while going to dinner with a friend.
“It just came to me like that,” said the 22-year-old York University Schulich Business School graduate who attended Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough. “A lot of the shows I go to, women artists are overshadowed. I want Black women to have a place in the art world, hence my decision to go ahead and stage this production which I hope will become annual.”
Fearon returns to York next month to pursue her Masters in Art History. She also plans to complete her MBA at the same institution.
“I think those areas of study will enhance my ability as a curator and arts manager,” she added.