OVER THE PAST 25 years, Kenneth Montague has built an expansive photography-based collection that explores Blackness and the Black experience, visualizing what Black life looks like on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Wedge Collection features images by Black artists from throughout the diaspora—from Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, Great Britain, South America, and the African continent—who work across fine art, portrait, documentary, and street photography.

Historic figures, emerging talents, and some of the most highly acclaimed photographers working today are represented in Montague’s collection. The expansive list includes James Barnor, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Samuel Fosso, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Barkley L. Hendricks, Texas Isaiah, Liz Johnson Artur, Seydou Keïta, Deana Lawson, Zun Lee, Gordon Parks, Jamel Shabazz, Xaviera Simmons, James Van Der Zee, and Carrie Mae Weems.

 


DAWIT L. PETROS, “Hadenbes,” 2005 (chromogenic print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), Courtesy the artist/Bradley Ertaskiran

 

More than 100 works from the collection are gathered in “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic: Selections from the Wedge Collection.”

In the book’s preface, photographer, critic, and curator Teju Cole wrote: “Too often in the larger culture, we see images of Black people in attitudes of despair, pain, or brutal isolation. As We Rise gently refuses that. It is not that people are always in an attitude of celebration—no, that would be a reverse but corresponding falsehood—but rather that they are present as human beings, credible, fully engaged in their world.”

“‘As We Rise’ shows us what Gordon Parks has in common with Nontsikelelo Veleko, it proposes that Seydou Keita and James Van Der Zee are brothers.” — Teju Cole

 

A Toronto dentist, Montague (below) was raised by Jamaican-born parents in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit, Mich. In 1997, he established The Wedge Collection.

As Black artists in the United States and Africa experience greater global recognition, Montague is particularly interested in raising the profile of Black Canadian artists, who have received far less attention. In addition to Stan Douglas, who is currently representing Canada at the 59th Venice Biennale, Canadian photographers in Montague’s collection include Sandra Brewster, Michael Chambers, Anique Jordan, and Dawit Petros.

The Wedge Collection has grown to more than 400 works. Montague chose the name in response to the absence of Black artists in the larger narrative of contemporary art. He has told Culture Type his intention was to “provide increased visibility and ultimately ‘wedge’ them into the canon.”

Montague has curated exhibitions and loaned works from his collection to major museum shows. His latest project is the most ambitious.

“As We Rise” is laser-focused on his mission. Montague recently joined the board of Aperture, a nonprofit art institution and multi-platform publisher dedicated to photography. New York-based Aperture published the catalog and organized the coinciding touring exhibition.

Montague’s alma mater is currently hosting the exhibition. “As We Rise” is on view at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto Art Centre in University College, through Nov. 19. The international show travels next to The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, before arriving in the United States at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., where it opens June 17,2023.

Fully illustrated, the publication is presented in three sections: Community, Identity, and Power. An impressive slate of curators and scholars contributed to the volume, including Cole, Isolde Brielmaier, Liz Ikiriko, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Mark Sealy, Teka Selman, and Deborah Willis.

“‘As We Rise’ shows us what Gordon Parks has in common with Nontsikelelo Veleko, it proposes that Seydou Keita and James Van Der Zee are brothers,” Cole wrote.

He likens the volume to a treasured photo album: “These are family pictures. This is a family album.” CT

 


LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER, “Huxtables, Mom and Me,” 2008 (gelatin silver print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © LaToya Ruby Frazier, Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York, and Brussels

 


DAWIT L. PETROS, “Sign,” 2003 (chromogenic print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), Courtesy of artist/Bradley Ertaskiran

 


SAMUEL FOSSO, “’70s Lifestyle,” 1975–78 (gelatin silver print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © Samuel Fosso, Courtesy JM.PATRAS/PARIS

 


JAMEL SHABAZZ, “Rude Boy, Brooklyn, New York,” 1982 (chromogenic print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), Courtesy of Jamel Shabazz

 


JAMEL SHABAZZ, “Best Friends, Brooklyn, New York,” 1981 (chromogenic print). From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Jamel Shabazz

 


ZUN LEE, “Jebron Felder and his son Jae’shaun at home, Harlem, New York,” September 2011 (selenium split-tone K7 on Hanhemüle Photo Rag). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), Courtesy of Zun Lee, from the Father Figure Project

 


KENNEDI CARTER, “Untitled (Self-Portrait),” 2020 (digital print on Hanhemüle Photo Rag). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Kennedi Carter

 


TAYO YANNICK ANTON, Untitled, 2009-2014, from the series Yes Yes Y’all (digital print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021), Courtesy of the artist

 


LIZ JOHNSON ARTUR, “Burgess Park,” 2010 (gelatin silver print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Black Balloon Archive, Liz Johnson Artur

 


ARIELLE BOBB-WILLIS, “Union City, New Jersey,” 2018 (archival pigment print). | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). | Courtesy Arielle Bobb-Willis

 


Installation view of “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic,” Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Sept. 7–Nov. 19, 2022. | Courtesy of Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

 


Installation view of “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic,” Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Sept. 7–Nov. 19, 2022. | Courtesy of Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

 


JAMES BARNOR, “Drum Cover Girl Erlin Ibreck, Kilburn, London,” 1966. | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy Autograph ABP

 


Installation view of “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic,” Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Sept. 7–Nov. 19, 2022. | Courtesy of Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

 


Installation view of “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic,” Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Sept. 7–Nov. 19, 2022. | Courtesy of Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

 


Installation view of “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic,” Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Sept. 7–Nov. 19, 2022. | Courtesy of Art Museum at the University of Toronto, Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid

 


TEXAS ISAIAH, “My Name Is My Name I,” 2016. | From As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic (Aperture, 2021). © Texas Isaiah

 

BOOKSHELF
The exhibition catalog “As We Rise: Photography from the Black Atlantic: Selections from the Wedge Collection” showcases the holdings of Canadian collector Kenneth Montague, exploring the Black experience through images by Black artists from Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, Great Britain, South America, and the African continent. “A Time Before Crack: Photographs from the 1980s” gathers photographs by Jamel Shabazz. “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion” presents the work of an international slate of rising photographers. Also consider, “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful” and “Afro-Atlantic Histories,” which documents a major international traveling exhibition that presents a sweeping account of the “historical experiences and cultural formations” of Black people of African descent, across five centuries dating from the 17th century to the present.

 

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