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Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit invites viewers to breathe deeply

‘Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity’ on display until the new year
Victoria-based visual artist Charles Campbell will exhibit his art show at the Nanaimo Art Gallery until Jan. 14. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

An Nanaimo art exhibit emphasises the importance of breath and the right to exist.

Through the intimacy of ‘quiet inhalation,’ as well as metal and mixed media sculptures, the Nanaimo Art Gallery presents ‘Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity.’

A release for the exhibit noted that the artist “strips away racial hierarchies and holds up black breath as its own force.”

A significant component of the project, said Victoria-based artist Charles Campbell, are the breaths of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland residents that he recorded and calls the Black Breath Archive.

“It provides a way for me to get to know a community. Also, to highlight that community within a space … Especially since a place like Nanaimo is not known for having a large black population,” he said. “Part of the intention is to bring focus that there is a significant population doing interesting things.”

Campbell continued to say that in connecting to the community he met with members of the Nanaimo African Heritage Society over dinner and discussed his intention and work. He then later followed up with certain individuals to take audio recordings of their breath.

“In order to be valid within a community or within a space … All we have to do is breathe,” the artist said. “And that, fundamentally, our life validates itself and gives us the right to exist. We don’t have to justify our right to exist in any other way.”

Campbell added that the justification of existence and a demonstration of historical legacy, or suffering, or exceptionalism, seems to be continually demanded.

“As if that gives us a foothold in this space … And no, actually just breathing does.”

Other artworks that address breath and breathing are Breath Cycle and Finding Accompong Reprise. Breath Cycle is a continual three-sided aluminum sculpture that represents cyclical time in an image of lichen – which the artist thought was a fitting representation as early photosynthesizers and symbiotic organisms.

Finding Accompong Reprise, originally a 17-foot tall metal sculpture, was installed at the Nanaimo Art Gallery as a shadow of a tree cast on a wall. The form of the tree is based on an inverted image of the human respiratory system. It is also based on a tree Campbell encountered while he lived in Jamaica called the Kindah Tree located in Accompong Town.

The name of the exhibit also refers to Jamaica and the artist’s desire to connect with community and his own past.

“‘Livity’ is a Jamaican term and it means both ‘how you live your life’ and also your life essence,” Campbell said. “It intermingles, too – how you live your life, your influences and how you express it … And the use of ocean recognizes the distance and travelling … the way that black populations have crossed oceans and continents to get here.”

The exhibit is also in response to the 2020 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

‘Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity’ can be viewed at the Nanaimo Art Gallery during operating hours until Jan. 14.

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