Nigerian-Canadian artist builds ‘Black Ark’ to explore Canada’s role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade

Emmanuel Kwarteng September 07, 2022
Oluseye Ogunlesi. Photo via Rille

At Toronto’s Ashbridges Bay, what appears to be the wreck of a long-lost ship recently surfaced. This eerie installation by Nigerian-Canadian sculptor Oluseye Ogunlesi explores Canada’s ‘forgotten’ participation in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, according to

It is less generally known that Canadian shipyards played a crucial role in building more than 60 ships that were used to convey smuggled individuals from Africa to the American continent. Alternatively, slave ships may have visited ports like Halifax. According to The Coast, a Nova Scotian actually steered the last ship that brought Africans into slavery.

Ogunlesi’s 12-foot-tall immersive sculpture installation, known as Black Ark, is on display as a highlight of the Luminato Toronto Arts Festival. With a form that resembles both the bow of a ship and the pitched outline of a church, it is intended to serve as a “symbolic home” to honor those who overcame slavery. 

The architectural installation by Ogunlesi sheds light on this unpleasant chapter in Canada’s colonial past and encourages spectators to think about it. He explores many aspects of being Black by using ‘diasporadic debris‘, a phrase he invented to describe the relics, trash, and objects he gathers while traveling across The Atlantic. 

These objects undergo a transformation before being reimagined as works of sculpture, installation, performance, and photography. These explorations draw on Ogunlesi’s personal experiences and journeys as part of a larger investigation of Black Diasporic identities, cultural products, migration, and spiritual traditions. 

He accepts the idea of Blackness as divine, fluid, and unfixed, unconstrained by time, space, and geographies, throughout his practice.  

Ogunlesi holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce from McGill University as well as a master’s degree in science in entrepreneurship from the Bayes Business School in London, United Kingdom. As a result, his work blurs the lines between the ancient and the modern, the conventional and the cutting-edge, the material and the spiritual, the new and the old, and the past and the present. 

The Agnes Etherington Art Center, Queen’s University, Kingston (2021), The Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo (2022), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2021), and The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2021) have all hosted exhibitions of his work (2015).

The Luminato Festival in Toronto is a world-renowned event that features performance, media, visual arts, and programming that transcends conventional artforms.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 7, 2022


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