A Gallery of Two Cities

June Clark’s works represent her experiences living in both Harlem and Toronto.

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is showcasing eight pieces of June Clark’s work. This exhibition is in celebration of an innovative period in Toronto art history.

June Clark is a Toronto-based artist with notable works in photography, sculpture and collage. Born in 1941 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, she experienced both the highs and lows of this period; namely, all the social change and the unrest during the nearly three decades that followed. She left for Toronto in 1968 and her work clearly reflects how the two cities have influenced her upbringing. and the influence that they had on her upbringing. Clark is known for her distinct use of scrap materials to explore her identity and give meaning to the various events in her life.

Clark’s work can be found at the new J.S.Mclean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art.

The gallery is in a dimly lit room that is bordered on either side by native exhibits. The room has eight two-dimensional wall pieces and a sculpture near one of the exits. This is one of the smaller exhibits on display, but it certainly has a lot to offer.

The exhibition included two works from the series “Whispering City,” which showcases images paired with text. The pictures are from when Clark first came to Toronto and would photograph the city. The words were added 20 years later. One of the pieces read, “When she said: You dirty little wench.” The collection has an element of amnesia nostalgia to it. Much like when you look back at old pictures of yourself and try recalling what exactly you were thinking or what was going on around you. But that’s the funny thing about pictures and memories: people can interpret them from totally completely different perspectives. I think by attaching the words to the photographs, Clark tries to change a personal memory into an image. The words may seem irrelevant from the viewer’s point of view, but it helps Clark give meaning to her childhood. All the pieces within this series that revisit Clark’s childhood deal with the social issues of race and stigmatization present in 1950’s New York. More interestingly, the images have a soft, fluid edge, creating an almost ghostly effect.

Another one of her pieces I would recommend looking out for is “Homecoming.” This is set around the time when Clark came back to New York for her residency. Because she was overcome by all these her feelings associated with returning after several years, she cut out alphabets from magazines and newspapers and stuck them on paper towers to convey her emotions.  Some of the feelings she described were ‘Elation’, ‘Mistrust’, and ‘Hostage.’ Clark describes the process of making the collage as a sort of ransom situation—cutting out the words made her feel like she was a captive, calling for help through the cutouts.

The June Clark exhibit was definitely worthwhile, and I would highly recommend it. However, I felt the exhibit was limited in the sense that it only offered a few pieces of her collection. Regardless, I was able to gather a lot from the exhibit through mere glimpses into Clark’s life through her art.

This article has been corrected.
  1. September 11, 2018 at 2 a.m.: Original: The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is showcasing eight pieces of June Clark’s work in its Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971- 1989 exhibition. To this: The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is showcasing eight pieces of June Clark’s work.
  2. September 11, 2018 at 2 a.m.: Original: Clark’s work can be found on the second level of the AGO, in the African Art section. To this: Clark’s work can be found at the new J.S.Mclean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art.
  3. September 11, 2018 at 2 a.m.: Removed: June Clark’s exhibition will run until December 2018.
  4. September 11, 2018 at 2 a.m.: Removed: Featured Photo

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