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National Gallery of Canada marks Emancipation Day with inauguration of new art installation

There is an art installation in downtown Ottawa that is hard to miss. It’s displayed prominently on the south fa├žade of the National Gallery of Canada for everyone to see.

“That is absolutely the point,” the artist, Deanna Bowen, tells CTV News Ottawa. “I want people to be able to see it, encounter it, not be able to pass it by.”

Bowen “expands her family history into a broader examination of discrimination in North America,” according to the National Gallery of Canada’s description of the piece.

“It’s an opportunity for me to honour my ancestors in a very important way, in a country that was not very welcoming at the beginning. Being able to research, resource that history and put it out for the public to learn has been a powerful thing,” says Bowen.

The official inauguration for “The Black Canadians (After Cooke)” is on Emancipation Day. It was on Aug. 1, 1834 that the slavery abolition act took effect, which lead to the liberation of people in the British Empire.

“August 1st, Emancipation Day, seemed like it would be a very fitting day for a work that really is about an exploration of a less known histories of this country, and by an artist whose family was directly affected,” says Jonathan Shaughnessy, Director of Curatorial Initiatives and Curator of The Black Canadians (after Cooke).

Visitors to the Gallery can scan a QR Code near the front entrance to learn about the images used, watch videos from the artist and community ,embers like Sarah Onyango, board member with Black History Ottawa.

“Seeing our history displayed in our nation’s capital in such big dimensions is recognition. It’s making visible our stories, and it’s even more meaningful that this is part of somebody’s personal family tree,” she tells CTV News Ottawa.

Bowen says she hopes her artwork makes people stop, think, and learn.

“If it makes you feel something, if you’re inclined to kind of pay attention to what it brings up, and maybe think that through, maybe the work has done its job and I’ve taught you a little something.”

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