Submission
Jorian Charlton

I Am The Woman

COOPER COLE is pleased to present I Am The Woman, a solo presentation of the work of Jorian Charlton. This is the artist’s first exhibition at the gallery, and the curatorial debut of Solana Cain.


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Jorian Charlton creates portraits in medium format that capture the vibrancy of diversity within the Black community. Charlton holds a strong place in a lineage of Black photographers who create in a collaborative way. She shares agency with her models by using familiar environments as her set, she encourages models to direct their own poses, incorporates their authentic style and then names the works after the models. Charlton’s approach to portraiture is significant because it gives Black people control over how they are represented. This process is Charlton’s way of pushing back at photography’s imperialist history, countering colonial photographic practices, and addressing restriction in movement and over-surveillance of the Black community that continues today.

The portraits in I Am The Woman highlight an array of identities present in children of the African and Caribbean diaspora. To Charlton, the gaze has weight. When taking a photograph, she locks eyes with models, sharing a moment of recognition and validation with them through the lens. When viewers look at her portraits, the models are staring at you, again speaking to the artist’s reclaiming of the Black experience at the photo studio. They are watching you because they are empowered; they are rooted in their autonomy and command the space the viewer beholds. They cannot be defined based on stereotypes or other narratives viewers may hold; they are telling you who they are. In Toronto’s Black community, when Charlton asks to take your portrait, people say yes. Charlton’s work is celebrated and wields authority because it reflects how Black Canadians view themselves and deserve to be seen.

The title of the exhibition, I Am The Woman, references the poem Remember Me? by American writer and activist Alice Walker. Walker’s poem asserts that the healing of women of colour, namely Black women, is hopeful, only if they find justice; only if their resiliency is acknowledged and space is created for them to exist freely. Charlton’s work mirrors this cry from Walker by advancing new modes of representation for Black people. Throughout these works, Charlton is reminding viewers that you cannot simply define any or all Black people based on what you’ve read or been told. Her work reminds you, and the Black community, that we each possess a unique story that is ours to share.