Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires


I had crossed the line, I was free but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land. – Harriet Tubman

16 January – 17 March 2013

Opening Reception:
Wednesday, January 16, 6 – 9 pm

Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires is a bold exhibition that presents a view on the Ku Klux Klan both during the American Civil Rights Movement era and its century-long history in Canada. Yes, in Canada. This radical new project stems from Toronto artist Deanna Bowen’s inquiry into her own ancestry of Black pioneers who emigrated from Oklahoma to northern Alberta in the early twentieth century, a crossing mirrored by the Klan themselves. Her autobiographical approach and archival investigations, though, deviate in this exhibition. Documents no longer serve the purpose of memorializing a traumatic past experience by means of an empathetic act of witnessing in the present, working through the traumatic archives of memory. Instead Bowen “crosses the line” into enemy territory by working with an “archive” of Klan material. “Working through” takes on a whole new dimension when the archives that supposedly are memorialized are those of the KKK, and when these documents and scenarios are re-enacted in the present for us to witness, and re-live. Laying it on the line, she in fact creates the KKK’s archive, memorializing it to another purpose and implicating us as spectators. In this endeavor, she, furthermore, “crosses the line” in what is expected or “permitted” of a Black artist by, in effect, reversing her area of concern from Black Studies to White Studies. This pioneering new work painfully breaks open the polarizing positions of racist ideologies embedded in the Klan’s history, as well as the discourses that evolve out of them by placing us squarely at the centre of the debate today: a line to be crossed or a line to be drawn?

The exhibition opens on Wednesday January 16, 6–9 pm with a commissioned performance re-creation of a twenty-minute October 24, 1965, CBC television interview between Calvin Craig, Grand Dragon of the Georgia Realm of the United Klans of America and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; his fellow Klansman George Sleigh; Civil Rights activist Reverend James Bevel; and This Hour Has Seven Days host Robert Hoyt. The exhibition continues through to Sunday, March 17, 2013.

The (Performance) Buses Are A’Comin’

Sorry Jim Crow, we’ve drawn the line. There’s no room for your kind on this bus! The Performance Bus departs OCADU (100 McCaul Street) on Wednesday, January 16 at 6 pm sharp, tracing a route through history into the present as Shelly Hamilton, Reena Katz, and Archer Peckawis take you on a ride to and from the opening reception of Deanna Bowen’s exhibition opening at AGYU. The Performance Bus returns downtown at 9 pm. This freedom ride is free.

AGYU Vitrines

Once you’ve crossed the line, there’s no turning back. This iteration of AGYU Vitrines is part of Deanna Bowen’s exhibition and intimately connected to its strategies of presenting KKK material without necessarily revealing a critical context. Here the banners of Klavern Number 10 of Red Bank, New Jersey, with their kitschy symbolism, are reproduced as backlit advertising in the public spaces of York University, beyond the symbolic and critical space of the gallery: perhaps a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

Crossing the Line: a Symposium on Difficult Images

How does one confront images of racism on the same order as those of violence and the atrocities of genocide? Can we begin to read images differently other than archiving them as memorializations of past traumas to be worked through? Crossing the Line addresses issues of difficult knowledge, difficult histories, and difficult images in a free, public one-day symposium to be held on Thursday, February 28 in room W132 Schulich School of Business, York University. Visit for further details and list of participants. Leading up to the symposium, AGYU has partnered with TPW R&D for a series of difficult discussions around the difficult image. This series of intimate discursive sessions attempts to expose and examine methods of artistic production surrounding trauma history and difficult knowledge.

The Art Gallery of York University is a university-affiliated public non-profit contemporary art gallery supported by York University, The Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, and our membership. Deanna Bowen: Invisible Empires is produced with the generous financial support of Partners in Art. Crossing the Line is generously sponsored by Partners in Art and produced with the assistance of the Ontario Arts Council Investment Fund.

The AGYU is located in the Accolade East Building, 4700 Keele Street Toronto. Gallery hours are: Monday to Friday, 10 am–4 pm; Wednesday, 10am–8 pm; Sunday from noon–5 pm; and closed Saturday.

The AGYU is located in the Accolade East Building, 470
0 Keele Street Toronto. Gallery hours are: Monday to Friday, 10 am–4 pm; Wednesday, 10am–8 pm; Sunday from noon–5 pm; and closed Saturday.

AGYU: Out There on the line to be crossed

Do you have questions or require further information or images? Please contact Emelie Chhangur, Assistant Director/Curator, AGYU, +1.416.736.5169 or

Deanna Bowen, “The Klan Comes to Town” from This Hour Has Seven Minutes, CBC Studios, Toronto, October 24, 1965, Installation detail, AGYU, 2013
Photo credit: Michael Maranda