When Krystal Paraboo was a guest curator for the Vancouver Mural Festival in 2020, she was disappointed that only two of the 250 artists featured were Black.
Though VMF began in 2016, it has since failed to do a good job of proportionally representing Vancouver’s Black population. This understanding led to the birth of the Black Strathcona Resurgence Project, which designated 14 artists and 11 murals to be created representing Black and BIPOC folks.
“We want this to be its own community project and focus on expanding artistic capacity for Black artists, and continue to reconcile the systemic erasure that Black people have faced in this province since the late 19th century,” says Paraboo.
The BSRP is showcasing Hogan’s Alley in Strathcona, which was home to Vancouver’s first significant Black community until they were displaced. The alley also intersects with Chinatown and is ultimately on Indigenous land, which is why Paraboo has made an effort to include Chinese and Indigenous artists in the BSRP.
“I want to show that this isn’t us trying to render them invisible. It’s that we want a seat at the table with them,” says Paraboo.
John Sebastian’s mural is featured in the festival and is his first time being a part of such a large BIPOC-focused project.
“I’m trying to promote a positive image of minorities because we’re always presented in a stereotypical way. We always have to be a rapper or dress like a rapper. There’s not a lot of diversity in the image that’s presented in the media,” says Sebastian.
His painting is of a beautiful woman, despite her not fitting into the Eurocentric standard of beauty that is most often portrayed in the media, says Sebastian.
“She doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, she has dark eyes and thick eyebrows, and curly untamed hair, but she’s beautiful. The idea was to create a positive image for minority women to look at and see a bit of themselves in,” he says.
The painting ‘The Beautiful Meme’ by Joslyn Reid will be displayed in the BSRP too. Reid’s painting is a celebration of his Jamaican Jonkunno culture, represented through the figure and the colours and patterns he used.
“I’ve always been intrigued with initiatives that lean into a diverse mindset right across the spectrum, whether its gender, or race, or culture,” Reid says.
Reid says he is grateful that the Black Strathcona Resurgence Project exists, because he is able to show his art in a new way in Vancouver for the first time.
“I get to be seen and heard and be in the conversation and not just be a silent spectator, but I get to be involved and to own the space and teach others about not just my own culture but things that I am passionate about.”
The BSRP aims to showcase Black culture in myriad ways for Vancouver’s public to enjoy and learn from.
“We want to show that Black is not a monolith so we will have performers of various Black identities from traditional African dance, to Caribbean dance performances, to an Afro-Indigenous DJ set, to a Black drag queen and everything in between,” says Paraboo.
The BSRP artists and organizers will also be hosting talks and events throughout the rest of the month, and more information can be found on the VMF website.