Black And Free: Art Exhibition and Symposium Extended to April 2, 2023 due to popular demand!

At Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum

Black And Free is an artistic and academic experience that deepens, enlivens and expresses themes of blackness and freedom projecting expansive visions of what that could be for engaged, curious and casual members of the public that was started by Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae in 2017.

Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum will host a two-day Art Exhibition on Saturday March 25 and Sunday, March 26, 2023. The exhibition will feature twelve Ontario-based Black artists commissioned to create new artwork that explores the theme of blackness and freedom. This partnership is made possible with support from Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum and the Ontario Ministry of Universities and Colleges’ Ontario Research Fund-Research Excellence grant. Admission and coat check are complimentary.

The exhibition features artists Emkay Adjei-Manu, Lillian Allen, Sydné Barnes-Wright, A. Decker, Damola Disu, Aljumaine Gayle, and Janine Ilya. With Ken Daley, Beck Deresse, Coco Murray, Simone Patricia and Tafui. Each artist’s work tells a unique story that explores the multifaceted experiences of Blackness and freedom through historic and contemporary lenses.

For centuries Black people all over the world have used visual art, literature, performance, theatre, music and other means of expression to imagine and advocate for freedom in their public and private lives. Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae is Principal Investigator of the Black And Free research-creation project that brings together artists, academics, students and the following organizations: Citizen Brand; Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum; NOR: The design commons for Canada; Studio Otherness; TheEDGE; THEMUSEUM; Wilfrid Laurier University Press, and Young People’s Theatre. Through research, partnerships and art Black And Free examines what Black expressive culture teaches us about blackness and freedom. Dr. Keleta-Mae is a Dorothy Killam Fellow, the Canada Research Chair in Race, Gender and Performance, an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and a multi-disciplinary artist.

Exhibition Floor Plan & Schedule

Download and share our poster.

Naila Keleta-Mae

Naila Keleta-Mae is a Dorothy Killam Fellow, the Canada Research Chair in Race, Gender and Performance, an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and multi-disciplinary artist. She holds a PhD in Theatre Studies (York University), an MFA in Theatre (York University) and a BA with distinction (Concordia University).

Her areas of research and teaching expertise are race, gender and performance. Dr. Keleta-Mae’s current artistic and research project is called Black And Free with a focus on Black expressive culture and it is funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts and the University of Waterloo. She has appeared as a media commentator for the BBC, CBC, CTV, The Canadian Press, The National Post, The Toronto Star, and The Fader and written op-eds for The Globe and Mail and Vice Network. She is also an award-winning poet, recording artist, and playwright who has performed in Canada, France, Jamaica, and South Africa.

Featured Artists

Please join us and experience Black And Free at the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum extended to Sunday, April 2 due to popular demand. Have questions about the exhibition? Reach out to Black and Free through the Black and Free Instagram or Black and Free Facebook.

With Artists

Market Guests

The market may be closed however you can click on the links below to learn more about the curated selection of Black And Free market guests and buy something wonderful.

Symposium Speakers

Explore the Artists

Lillian Allen

Lillian Allen

A leading Canadian poet and an international exponent of dub poetry, Lillian Allen was acclaimed a foremother of Canadian poetry by the League of Canadian Poets. She is a two-time Canadian Juno award winner for her albums of dub poetry, Revolutionary Tea Party and Conditions Critical. She is an arts activist and a cultural strategist who initiated and developed several key equity impacting arts programs. A mentor to the mentors and ‘Godmother of Everything’, Lillian is the recipient of many awards and citations including The Toronto Cultural Champions Award, The Margo Bindhardt Award for significantly impacting the arts in Toronto through both creative work and activism, the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations, and an Honourary Doctorate from Wilfrid Laurier University for her contribution and impact on Canadian Letters. 

Sydne Barnes-Wright

Sydné Barnes-Wright 

I am an Afro-Caribbean, born in Jamaica and raised here in Ontario, Canada. Living as a diasporan and having an immigrant background in this country has had a great influence on my life and how I create. I have mainly formal training in garment design, textile/fiber arts, however, I consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist. I frequent other mediums such as storytelling through Motion Film, Photography and Drawing. I am currently pursuing my undergraduate program in Design at OCAD University. With the work I do, my intentions are to create more opportunities to travel and ideate so that I can build an art practice that allows me to explore and seek to further the diasporic experiences.

Damola Disu painting on a large canvas

Damola Disu

Lagos, Nigeria born Damola Disu Àlàkijà is an emerging Toronto artist. Using oil paints and Pan-African colors, Disu combines an eclectic mix of traditional Afrocentric art and modernism to inspire his emotive work. Through his passion for contemporary architecture and vintage, West-African traditional concepts, Disu has created a style which has captivated the senses – amélange of visionary conceptualism and mythology with just a touch of mystery. He immersed himself in the arts since childhood, and continued to develop skills in various art mediums, stimulating his passion to create and express himself. Disu studied under Adeolu Lasisi in southwestern Nigeria, Contemporary Realist Painter Roberto Rosenman in Toronto and recently completed a moulding & sculpting program at OCAD. As Disu continues to evolve, his paintings have transformed from vibrant tonal contrasts to emotive, muted forms of expression – a mix of soft, shadowy colors and the exquisite beauty in dark emotions.

woman laying on bed facing away

Emkay Adjei-Manu 

Emkay Adjei-Manu (b. 1996) is a Brampton based multidisciplinary artist, community engaged arts worker, and researcher. They work primarily through analogue-collage. Their work is concerned with the function and form of visual storytelling as it relates to embodiment, myth, memory, and sound. Through their collage practice, they create narrative-based collage as a mode and method of image-making and storytelling. They source mass produced archival images to illustrate personal and collective narratives that address themes concerned with the social, spiritual, and systemic conditions of Black life, as well as personal and collective histories. Their work has been exhibited by Factory Media Centre, Nia Centre for the Arts, McMaster Museum of Art, Xpace Cultural Centre, and published in Black Canadian print magazines such as PITCH magazine and 1919 MAG. More recently, their collage practice has led them to explore storytelling through experimental film-making and creative writing. They were recently selected to participate in the RBC Emerging Artist Network in collaboration with The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and serve as a founding member of an emerging arts based collective, Brampton Black Arts. Co.

A. Decker

A. Decker 

My name is Alana Decker and my artist name is A. Decker. Born from British and Jamaican parents, I’m a proud Black female Canadian residing in Cambridge, Ontario. I’m a wife, mother of 4 children, an artist, and a survivor of domestic violence. I’ve always had a love for art and fashion, but I was truly inspired to showcase my talent to the world during the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic. I realized how therapeutic painting and drawing felt, it has now become a daily routine. My work is inspired by my heritage, my perception of beauty, strength, love, happiness and music. I love combining art with quotes, every piece I’ve created has meaning. Different mediums allow me to fully express myself. I favour acrylic paints and spray paint as I have a lot of love for graffiti art. I always say, “Art brings me happiness. What doesn’t make sense with spoken words, forms clarity when my paint brush touches the canvas.”

Aljumaine Gayle

Aljumaine Gayle

Aljumaine Gayle is a dynamic, queer artist and creative leader based in Toronto. With expertise in visual design, user experience, and engineering, Aljumaine bridges the gap between these disciplines to create innovative, experiential, hand coded web experiences, branding, sound design, AR/VR development, interactive installations, data visualization, and hardware prototyping. As a leader of creative teams and manager of large-scale projects, Aljumaine specializes in bringing projects to life with their keen eye for detail and passion for design. An active researcher with the Technoscience Research Unit at the University of Toronto, Aljumaine holds a design degree from OCADU’s Digital Futures. When not working, Aljumaine produces experimental electronic music, soundscapes, and short films, with their art practice being rooted in Afrofuturism to subvert systems of oppression with respect to blackness.

Janine Ilya

Janine Ilya

Janine Ilya (she/her) is a multi-disciplinary Canadian-Rwandan visual artist, based in Toronto. Her practice centers around capturing the subtleties of intimate moments, from the perspective of the Black mind. She looks at how the concepts of intimacy and vulnerability – in relation to others and oneself – contribute to the process of identity formation. Drawing from her memory, observations and communities, Ilya creates colourful contrasting imagery, which speaks to the chaos and beauty of personal and collective growth. Allowing for the materials to guide her, she intentionally uses multiple mediums such as painting, textiles, and recycled objects to imitate the process of transformation, by giving them new meaning. Along with her personal practice, she is a Gallery Associate at Cooper Cole Gallery and the Studio Assistant to curator, artist and writer Anique Jordan.

With Additional Artists

Ken Daley

Ken Daley

Ken Daley is an award-winning artist/illustrator who is known for his use of bold colours and authentic details to depict Black Life, in all its iterations. He works in various media such as oils, acrylics, and digital.

“My passion lies with reflecting my Afro-Caribbean heritage within my art, as well as illustrating for children’s books. I believe that diverse stories are essential to creating a more just, and equitable world, and this is something I am deeply committed to manifesting through his art.”

Ken was born in Cambridge, Ontario to parents who emigrated from Dominica, West Indies. He has exhibited his artwork in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, and his work can be found in numerous private and public collections. Ken has illustrated eight children’s books, and currently working on five more titles. He currently lives in Tillsonburg, Ontario.

Beck Deresse

Beck Deresse

Beck Deresse is an illustrator and designer based in Ottawa, Ontario. Their illustrations draw on personal experiences navigating the world as a black, nonbinary lesbian. Beck is endlessly fascinated by the power and strength in community and works to create art that celebrates, honours, and carves out space for other marginalized folks. Their work blends bold, funky design and figurative drawings; paying homage to traditional ways of making art that is infused with new ideas. Their love of modal jazz also plays a huge role in their work, as well as their Ethiopian heritage. When they’re not drawing, Beck can be found playing Stardew Valley and cuddling with their cat.

Coco Murray

Miss Coco Murray

Collette “Coco” Murray is an award-winning artist-scholar, dance educator, and performer who is invested in teaching, community arts engagement, and research in Afrodiasporic dance vernacular. Murray pursues a Ph.D. in Dance Studies at York University and balances advocacy and arts leadership in the Canadian dance sector. Miss Coco Murray is her mobile, dance education business offering workshops, talks and publications and creative placemaking. Coco’s research-creation is a provocation to the dance studies field, using dance photography, archive, and embodied experience to contextualize Afrodiasporic creative expressions. Murray’s performance background includes music-dance systems in the Western African region, Caribbean folk and contemporary dances of the African diaspora. Murray is the Artistic Director of Coco Collective, an intergenerational arts team offering culturally responsive projects, performances, and cultural education to schools, organizations, and communities to African and Caribbean arts.

Coco Collective

The Coco Collective

Three drummers of The Coco Collective, Whitney Charles, Kimberley Charles, and Sherwin Charles, will be performing at 11:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. 

Coco Collective is an intergenerational and multidisciplinary team of artists that offers culturally responsive projects and performances focused on African and Caribbean arts to organizations, schools, and communities in the Greater Toronto Region.  They performed in the Black and Free: New Art series on March 1st with their Artistic Director, Miss Coco Murray.  The musicians return to Kitchener to bring traditional rhythms from the Mali Empire in the Western region of Africa to liberate our exhibition today. 

Photography credit: Arthur Mola Photography, Toronto Botanical Garden, Edwards Music Series, Hit & Run Dance Productions

Simone Patricia

Simone Patricia 

Simone Patricia is an Afro-Caribbean contemporary abstract/realist artist from the Waterloo Region. Her expressive colourful paintings pay homage to her African-Caribbean heritage/culture and various women, men, and children from her life as well as within the BIPOC community.

Starting off solely drawing, Simone has been an artist for as long as she can remember. Attending the Visual Arts program at Lakehead University, she was there introduced to various art mediums and fell deeply in love with painting and has been painting ever since.

Imperfection is her drive and motivation. Being able to create while not being concerned whether her work is perfect, is her definition of perfect bliss. Simone’s unique style is a harmonious blend of vibrancy and geometry with a mix of abstraction and realism. Fluidity and freedom go hand in hand for Simone, and that recipe then results in endless true creation for the artist.



I am an independent artist and designer originally from Xaymaca / Kingston, Jamaica. My work spans various media, including digital art, graphic design, fine art, and product design. I hold a D.E.C in studied studio arts from Dawson College and a B.F.A. in Design Art from Concordia University. With over twenty years of experience working in the art and design industry, I have also lectured and co-wrote post-secondary-level courses in branding & design. My paintings are inspired by deconstructing cultures into their base elements and symbols, looking for the similarities and relationships they share. Upon researching my ancestral history, I was led to study pre-colonial groups from West Africa and noticed the similarities between indigenous cultures throughout the globe. The use of pattern-making and symbolism as a sconce of storytelling was in Africa and worldwide.

Symposium Speakers

The Symposium took place on Saturday, March 25 at the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum. During that time, a small group of Black Studies scholars from the region have been invited to have a series of discussions to collectively reflect on blackness and freedom as expressed in the Art Exhibition and within their own areas of expertise. The Symposium is presented by the Canada Research Chair in Race, Gender and Performance. 

Shaunasea Brown

Dr. Shaunasea Brown

Dr. Shaunasea Brown (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research interests include Black Women's Arts Praxes, African Diasporic Aesthetics, Constructions of Race and Racism, Black Feminist and Womanist Studies and Pan-Africanism. Shaunasea’s previous research analyzed Black women and girl’s hair politics in Canada and her current work operates at the intersections of Black women’s arts practices of world-making in ways that offer insights into constructions of gender, sexuality, and citizenship. Her future arts-based projects will explore how sound can be used to (re)articulate Black life in ways that directly refuse the anti-Black logics facilitating disproportionate rates of Black death worldwide. 

Ronald Cummings Facebook

Dr. Ronald Cummings

Ronald Cummings is an associate professor of Caribbean Literature and Black Diaspora Studies in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. He has edited a number of volumes including Make the World New: The Poetry of Lillian Allen

Dr. Andrea Davis

Dr. Andrea A. Davis

Dr. Andrea A. Davis is a Professor in the Department of Humanities at York University, and Academic Convenor of the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences to be held at York. Prior to this role, she was Special Advisor on the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies’ Anti-Black Racism Strategy. A former Canadian commonwealth scholar, Dr. Davis earned a BA in English and Spanish Literatures (first class honors) from the University of the West Indies (Mona campus) and MA and PhD degrees in English at York University.  

Dr. Davis’s research is rooted in anti-racism feminism and analyzes questions of race and gender through a focus on the literary and cultural productions of Black women. Her most recent book, Horizon, Sea, Sound: Caribbean and African Women’s Cultural Critiques of Nation (2022) imagines new reciprocal relationships among Black, Indigenous and other racialized women, and offers new reflections on the relationship between the Caribbean and Canada. 

Dr. Davis established and coordinates the Black Canadian Studies Certificate at York and is an award-winning teacher, most recently receiving a 2021 3M National Teaching Fellowship. She holds cross-appointments in the graduate programs in English; Interdisciplinary Studies; Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies; and Social and Political Thought. 

She is co-editor of the Journal of Canadian Studies, former Chair of the Department of Humanities (2015-2020), and former academic colleague on the Council of Ontario Universities (2018-2020). 

Dr. Yasmine Espert

Dr. Yasmine Espert (she/they) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Art & Art History at York University and an editor of profiles and interviews for Seen, a journal of film and visual culture, focused on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities globally. 

Her publications on film, photography and the African Diaspora include “Listening to Revolution” for Artpress, “Can Photography Be Decolonial?” for Public Books, as well as a creative essay on sovereignty for Spectator, and an article on Black British film for Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. Other work is published by the Studio Museum in Harlem and Oxford University Press. Her research is supported by York University, ACLS, Union Theological Seminary, the University of Michigan, Fulbright, and others.  

Dr. Espert was an advisor for Student Voices, a digital humanities collaboration with Smarthistory and the AUC Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective. With the support of Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform for Criticism, she curated made vulnerable – an online exhibition for sx visualities. Dr. Espert contributed to the MoMA's Museum Research Consortium. She was a research associate at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the University of Illinois, Chicago (Bridge to Faculty). She received a doctorate in art history from Columbia University. 

Jade Ferguson

Dr. Jade Ferguson

Dr. Jade Ferguson is an Associate Professor in the School of English & Theatre Studies and Associate Dean, University Academic Equity and Anti-Racism, at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include 19th to mid-20th century Canadian and US literatures as well as Civil Rights Movement literature and photography. She is working on two monographs: the first is a cultural history of anti-black mob violence in Canada, Lynching in Canaan: Race, Violence, and Cultural Memory in Canada, and the second examines cultural representations of segregation and civil rights activism in Canada in literature, film, and photography, Jim Crow Canada: Segregation and Civil Rights in Canadian Literature and Art. She was awarded the College of Arts Teaching Excellence Award in 2016 and 2020. 

Nataleah Hunter-Young

 Dr. Nataleah Hunter-Young

Dr. Nataleah Hunter-Young (she/they) is a writer, film curator, and assistant professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. At the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), they are international programmer responsible for feature selections from Africa and Arab West Asia. Born and raised in Toronto, Nataleah holds a joint Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from York University and Toronto Metropolitan University. 

Carl James

Dr. Carl James

Dr. Carl E. James holds the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York University and is the Senior Advisor on Equity and Representation in the Office of the Vice President of Equity, People and Culture. He is Professor in the Faculty of Education and holds cross-appointments in the Graduate Programs in Sociology, Social and Political Thought, and Social Work. James is widely recognized for his research contributions in the areas of intersectionality of race with ethnicity, gender, class and citizenship as they shape identification/identity; the ways in which accessible and equitable opportunities in education and employment account for the lived experiences of marginalized community members; and the complementary and contradictory nature of sports in the schooling and educational attainments of racialized students.

In advocating on education for change, James documents the struggles, contradictions and paradoxes in the experiences of racialized students at all levels of the education system. In doing so, he seeks to address and move us beyond the essentialist, generalized and homogenizing discourses that account for the representation and achievements of racialized people – particularly Black Canadians -- in educational institutions, workplaces, and society generally.

Naila Keleta-Mae

Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae 

Naila Keleta-Mae is a Dorothy Killam Fellow, the Canada Research Chair in Race, Gender and Performance, an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo and multi-disciplinary artist. She holds a PhD in Theatre Studies (York University), an MFA in Theatre (York University) and a BA with distinction (Concordia University).

Her areas of research and teaching expertise are race, gender and performance. Dr. Keleta-Mae’s current artistic and research project is called Black And Free with a focus on Black expressive culture and it is funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts and the University of Waterloo. She has appeared as a media commentator for the BBC, CBC, CTV, The Canadian Press, The National Post, The Toronto Star, and The Fader and written op-eds for The Globe and Mail and Vice Network. She is also an award-winning poet, recording artist, and playwright who has performed in Canada, France, Jamaica, and South Africa.

Johanna McCants-Turner Facebook

Dr. Johonna McCants-Turner

Dr. Johonna McCants-Turner (she/her) is Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo. Her scholarship centers the theoretical and ethical contributions of Black women and youth to restorative & transformative justice, contemporary anti-violence movements, and narrative approaches to social change. She is currently at work on a monograph, Love In the Wake of Wounding: Black Womanist Ethics and Reparative Justice, which places women-of-color led discourses and approaches to restorative and transformative justice in conversation with Black feminist and womanist traditions of Christian social ethics. Dr. McCants-Turner serves on the advisory board of Life Comes From It, a U.S. based grantmaking circle that funds BIPOC-led restorative justice, transformative justice, and Indigenous peacemaking initiatives. She is also a Circle Keeper with Hidden Water, a restorative justice organization that fosters healing and accountability for individuals and families impacted by childhood sexual abuse.

Dr. Ola Mohammed

Dr. Ola Mohammed 

Dr. Ola Mohammed is an Assistant Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Humanities Department at York University. Her research is in the areas of Black Studies, Black Popular Music, Sound Studies and Diaspora Studies. She specializes in interdisciplinary research exploring Black cultural production, Black social life and Black being as sites of possibility  

Meet the Creator of the Black and Free Brand


Ashley Tomlinson

Graphic Designer | Workshop Facilitator | Provisional RGD

Ashley Tomlinson (She/Her) is a multidisciplinary graphic designer currently based in Toronto, Canada. Ashley designed a bold logo, strong colour palette and collection of graphic elements that combine to create the Black And Free brand. These design assets will empower our partners to promote all Black And Free events during our multi-year research project. 

Black And Free is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Universities and Colleges, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Waterloo.

Ontario ministry of colleges and universities logo

 University of Waterloo logo

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada logo