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Woman looking at a piece of art in a gallery. Four other artworks are visible.

The Performance of Shadows opening reception. Background: Erika DeFreitas, compositions on a colourless blue, 2021/2023, inkjet print on Hahnemühle. School of Art Gallery, UM.

Exploring intuition as a condition of consciousness

Emerging curator Lillian O’Brien Davis’s exhibition The Performance of Shadows explores the knowledge and empowerment of the unseen

March 3, 2023 — 

A new exhibition has just opened at the School of Art Gallery, exploring intuition as a condition of consciousness.

The Performance of Shadows, curator and writer Lillian O’Brien Davis’ latest exhibition, considers the expansiveness of three artists’ understanding of existence through various approaches to concepts of phenomenology, spirituality and political engagement.

“The exhibition is intended to encourage audience members to tap into the various intelligences they carry within them,” explains O’Brien Davis. “There’s so much of the world that we don’t see and the artists in this exhibition are attuned to that and are channeling those experiences through their work.”

Featuring works by Erika DeFreitas, Betye Saar, and Tim Whiten, the title of the exhibition was inspired by The Deepest Dye, a 2021 book in which author Aisha Khan explores how colonial categorizations of race and religion created identities and hierarchies which reiterate inequalities in the Atlantic world today.

“Khan troubles Stuart Hall’s supposition that visibility becomes the synonym for truth,” explains O’Brien Davis, who works as the Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography in Toronto. “Instead, what is unseen or ineffable becomes a source of empowerment and greater knowledge. The Performance of Shadows felt like an apt description for some of the ideas I was sorting through with this show.”

The exhibition features three artists whose artistic practices explore the themes of intuition and embodied knowledge. The Performance of Shadows marks several firsts, as it will be the first exhibition of Toronto visual artist Erika DeFreitas’ series compositions on a colourless blue (2021), and the first time African American artist Betye Saar’s work Cryptic Confession: The Question (1988) will be displayed in Canada.

“It’s a lot of firsts and I’m so honoured to be trusted by the artists I’m working with,” says O’Brien Davis. “I’m thrilled to finally bring these artists together after years of imagining this exhibition in my head, and I’m so proud to be able to include Betye Saar’s work, as her work hasn’t been exhibited in Canada since the 1990s.”

The Performance of Shadows will be on display at the School of Art Gallery until April 29th, 2023.

The Performance of Shadows is presented as part of the School of Art Gallery’s Visiting Curator Program, generously supported by Michael F.B. Nesbitt. Launched in the summer of 2021, this initiative supports curatorial research, exhibitions, events and publications by emerging and established guest curators alike.

The Visiting Curator Program is a catalyst for international-calibre exhibitions and aims to play a vital role in defining contemporary art and its attendant discourses in the Prairies. It gives students, faculty, and other community members meaningful opportunities to engage with curators charting bold new trajectories in their field. Through a significant mentorship component, it aims to foster strong new voices in this discipline.


The Performance of Shadows
Erika DeFreitas, Betye Saar, and Tim Whiten
Curated by Lillian O’Brien Davis, Visiting Curator
On until April 29, 2023
School of Art Gallery


Adjunct programming

Suzanne Bauman: Spirit Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar
Presented in dialogue with The Performance of Shadows, this 1977 documentary profiles the life and work of Betye Saar. Produced by WNET (New York Public Media) Spirit Catcher addresses Saar’s fascination with the mystical and the unknown, which merge with her social concerns as an African American woman. It is on in the School of Art Lobby Gallery until Apr. 29.

Erika DeFreitas: compositions on a colourless blue workshop
Learn the basics of conceptual art with Erika DeFreitas at 1JustCity’s drop-in program.
Tuesday, March 14, 10:30 a.m.

Erika DeFreitas and Lillian O’Brien Davis in Conversation
Join The Performance of Shadows curator Lillian O’Brien Davis and artist Erika DeFreitas as they discuss their artist-curator mentorship.
Thursday, March 16, Noon. The talk will be in-person and online.

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