SASKATOON — Addressing inequality and racism was the goal of the creator of a new art project that features larger-than-life portraits of outspoken, masked Black Canadians draping windows in Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.
“’Unmask Fear’ is simply balance,” Robert Young told CTV News Channel on Saturday. He said he’s counteracting racist prejudice and ignorance by showcasing “folks that are out there doing purposeful work in the world.”
The huge black-and-white portraits feature the likes of Liberal MP Marci Ien, chief of staff to the lieutenant-governor of Ontario Anthony Hylton, author Curtis Carmichael, and Dr. Akwatu Khenti, special adviser to the City of Toronto’s COVID-19 Equity Initiative.
“All of us from all over the world have made contributions to humanity, and the reality is that those of the African diaspora [and] Black people from all over the world should not be left out of that conversation,” Young said.
He says inequality is disheartening and unfair because it forces communities that have historically had fewer means and less access to power “feel like they need to complain or that they need to exclaim that they belong.”
“The illusions that are tied to and drive the concepts of racism are based in concepts that are just old. They’re antiquated at a time when we have so much access to information,” he said. “I think it’s very easy to eradicate these horrible concepts by just speaking the truth and sharing ideas and truth in a positive way.”
INSPIRED BY SELFIE HE TOOK IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Young’s Canadian project spiralled out of a similar project he created in Washington, D.C. last spring entitled “No Fear,” which followed the uprising against the police killing of George Floyd. “No Fear” featured huge black-and-white portraits across the U.S. capital.
The origins of that project stemmed from him sending his friends a selfie of himself wearing a canvas mask, which featured the quote by former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
His friends were ecstatic and encouraged Young to create public art instillations featuring that photo.
“[I] felt a little weirded out because it was a photo of my own face,” Young said. But, he said, he gave into pressure because “everyone was speaking to the fact that they felt that image was now a necessary and needed to be seen in a major way.”
The free-to-the-public installation “Unmask Fear Canada” will be on display at the Harbourfront Centre’s Main Building until Nov. 30.
There is also a multimedia part of the project available here, which features uncut interviews with each of the subjects of the portraits.