by Noor E.
This year’s FRO Festival 2014, hosted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was reminiscent of the successes of last year’s – with special invitee Angela Davis who took to the stage at Astral with many local and international artists and performers who created an open dialogue around various issues in respects to black culture. The FRO Festival 2013 featured a series of performances, activities, and workshops throughout Black History month, by guests such as Jean ‘Jafrikayti’ Saint-Vil, Jenny ‘J.Kyll’ Salgado, Meryem Saci, and the FRO Festival’s official painter and artist, Monk.E. The FRO Festival’s harmonious collaboration showed how art is both a medium of expression and a platform for discussion. The FRO Foundation (Foundations Rely on Origins) is a multidisciplinary organization that holds a variety of events and festivals that promote the appreciation of cultural differences and legacy in relation to different facets of black culture. When asked about her impression of FRO Festival 2013, one smiling participant said: “I can’t help but anticipate the next one.”
The FRO Foundation was happy to deliver.
For this year’s Black History month, in partnership and with the return of special invitee The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, the opening night of the FRO Festival 2014 was launched from 5-7 by the 4th Wall Exhibition: Making the Invisible Visible –a project led by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and supported by TD Bank Group. The Michaëlle Jean Foundation seeks to dissolve the invisible walls that create solitude between individuals and communities, by offering museum space and bursaries to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. The exhibition was free of charge and set out to include works from eight young artists chosen from black communities in Montreal such as Tanisha Mapp, Pierre Zaly Heloe, Kosisochukwu Nnebe, and Ma’liCiouZ, who revisited pieces from the MMFA’s permanent collection of Quebec and Canadian Art and re-envisioned the concepts of the original pieces into new ones. Before the viewing, approximately 300 people crowded outside the doors of the exhibit, listening to the empowering speech given by Jean in the company of her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond. Applause echoed in the hall as Jean concluded her message about the expansion of spaces designated for young artists and upcoming entrepreneurs, thanking all those involved in making the special occasion possible. Plates of food and trays carrying red wine floated across the room to the lively and boisterous crowd of all ages. Families, friends, and media entered the exposition, eager to see and discuss the mounted displays of three or so pieces per artist. When asked about her recreated pieces, 4th Wall artist Tanisha Mapp said:
“When I was working on these three pieces, and when I saw Valérie Blass’ artwork, I felt that it was really consumed by fake, synthetic hair and like trying to cover up your identity with something that you’re not. So, I decided to do the opposite of her piece. I decided embrace natural hair, embrace African-American culture, and that it’s okay to just be yourself… Today is a perfect example of what I envision – bringing different cultures together, bringing the black community together, and we’re empowered through art and discussion as well. As for the future, art is powerful. So I just envision that every year it’s going to get better and better – this is just the beginning.”
The room carried on with bustling chatter and laughter, intellectual debates and artistic discourse, as individuals exchanged ideas, experiences and challenges faced with social issues such as inequality and the false pretenses of beauty.
“I’m really in awe,” commented Jean when speaking to painter Ma’liCiouZ.
After the exhibition, The FRO Festival 2014 and a crowd of approximately 200 people moved towards the MMFA’s auditorium, where doors opened at 8:15 p.m. The bustle and excitement following the 4th Wall Exhibition only grew stronger. Outside, lining the auditorium hall, were boutiques of local Montreal businesses, such as Inhairitance, Ayacaona, and WALY Access, selling natural hair products for men and women, hand-made jewellery and other African-inspired accessories. Inside, Dr. Mad, the official DJ of the FRO Festival, added to the ambiance by playing hip-hop infused beats and songs from the Fro Compilation 2014 –an annually released archive of FRO artists. A screen that showed Fanny Aishaa, the live painter of the night, was lowered and displayed throughout the course of the evening. The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond were seated front-row centre with the eight young artists nearby. The mood was casual, intimate and oftentimes funny with interjections from the hosts or people in the audience. At one point, a moment of reflection was taken in loving memory and consideration of those who could not be in attendance, but whose influence and dedicated work has contributed to the overall mission. A spectacular line-up – from Rhodnie Desir’s provoking dance excerpt entitled “Bow’t”, Marie-Christine’s playful new song “Voodoo Trix”, Nodly’s 3-song set devoted to the principles of Freedom, Love, and Difference, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine’s militant and powerful poetic slam, and Amesika and Doris Défilé’s modern renditions of traditional African attire – the FRO Festival 2014 was an array of personalities, energies and voices all coming together for the festival’s first exuberant night.
“You make the choice to assume your history. Like I have often said – and it is not me who invented it – it is important to know where we come from in order to know where we are going. The moment we become comfortable with our identity, that we are comfortable with our history and story then, I think, we can better assume our heritage,” commented Nodly after her performance.
Last but not least, a vibrant musical performance by Queen Ziyah and ‘La Familiya’ (a non-official group) had the entire audience up on their feet, dancing and clapping. The FRO Festival 2014 opening night concluded with Queen Ziyah inviting a dancing Michaëlle Jean and FRO co-founder Berekyah onto the stage, as the two exchanged an appreciative hug. The audience dispersed through the rows and joined the stage in a collective celebration of a night well spent. The FRO Foundation continues to mark itself in the Montreal community as the only festival of its kind.
Be sure to catch the upcoming FRO Festival 2014 nights on February 15th & 22nd 2014! For details and tickets, visit www.fondationfro.com.
Editor’s Notes: The 4th Wall Exhibition: Making the Invisible Visible will stay open from February 5, 2014 to March 30 2014.
You can find Tanisha Mapp on her website: www.stayfree.webs.com.
Nodly’s upcoming event is at The Couscous Comedy Show at the Cabaret Mile-End on February 14th, 2014. Website: www.nodlydayz.com.
Lancement compilation FRO 2014 + Afua Cooper
Kathleen Cleaver @ FRO 2014