AGGV handout - Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey

Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey

AGGV to host only stop in Western Canada for famed Trinidadian-Canadian artist

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria presents the ground-breaking and much anticipated exhibition Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey, running now until February 20, 2022.

”We are grateful that our community will have the opportunity to experience the powerful work of Denyse Thomasos. Work that has the capacity to provoke in us questions, curiosity and a range of emotions that connect deeply with the human condition,” said Nicole Stanbridge, AGGV curator of engagement.“This is articulated so poignantly by Esi Edugyan, the Victoria-based, award-winning novelist, who contributed a moving and insightful essay to the exhibition’s catalogue, referencing how Thomasos’ work lives in a place of tension between things, like freedom and confinement. Edugyan states, ‘the work is subtle and refuses to show us what we expect to see.’”

The exhibition is co-curated by Gaëtane Verna, director of The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, and Sarah Milroy, chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The show brings together more than 50 works from every phase of Denyse Thomasos’ (1964–2012) career, celebrating her historic contribution to Canadian art.

Denyse Thomasos was a Trinidadian-Canadian artist whose epic paintings incorporate imagery from a range of sources, including Caribbean textiles, historic slave ships, industrial shipyards, graveyards, villages and maximum security prisons.

Thomasos explained her choice of subject matter in an artist statement in 2012, shortly before her untimely death: “I was struck by the premeditated, efficient, dispassionate records of human beings as cargo and also by the deplorable conditions of the slave ships—so many Africans stacked and piled into the tiny, airless holds.

“In my artwork, I used lines in deep space to recreate these claustrophobic conditions, leaving no room to breathe. To capture the feeling of confinement, I created three large-scale, black-and-white paintings of the structures that were used to contain slaves—and left such catastrophic effects on the black psyche: the slave ship, the prison and the burial site. These became archetypal for me. I began to reconstruct and recycle their forms in all of my works.”

The structures that confine and define us—whether political, social or architectural—served as the subject of her works. With her lush painterly approach, Thomasos compounded these subjects into form and colour. The result is a body of work that recalls the history of the African diaspora with boundless energy and force. Thomasos’ art enacts a delicate balance between representation and abstraction, and holds a unique place in the history of Canadian art, adding to a narrative from which Black, Indigenous and people of colour’s voices have for too long been excluded. The McMichael’s exhibition gathers works from all phases of Thomasos’ career in celebration of her historic contribution.

Denyse Thomasos: Odyssey is accompanied by an exhibition catalogue including a curatorial conversation between Verna and Milroy, as well as the essay by Edugyan. The catalogue is available at the AGGV Gallery Shop.

For more information visit

ArtArt Gallery of Greater Victoria

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