Celebrating Black identities, culture and community, Sunday School makes its museum debut at the AGO

Joshua Kissi, Jump Ball: Mighty Migration, 2020. © Courtesy of Sunday School

Opening May 6, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) presents Feels Like Home, an exhibition of photographs and time-based media by the creative agency Sunday School. Renowned for their vibrant depictions of Black identities and collaborative ethos, in this, their first ever museum installation, Sunday School presents a selection of works reflecting on the idea of home and belonging.  Curated by Emilie Croning, AGO Curatorial Assistant, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, the exhibition will be on view through May 2024.

Founded by Creative Director, Nigerian-Canadian Josef Adamu in 2017, Sunday School has brought together photographers, videographers, stylists and models from across Africa and the Diaspora to create visual campaigns that straddle both commercial and fine art worlds. Their projects and partnerships extend from Los Angeles to Lagos.

“The story of Sunday School is one of artistic collaboration and representation – Black creatives telling Black stories, that invite us all in,” says Emilie Croning, Curatorial Assistant, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora. “It’s about identity culture, community and beyond that, presents visual references reminiscent of works by famed African and African American photographers such as the late Kwame Brathwaite, Seydou Keïta and James Barnor. The photographs in this exhibition remind us that home is rarely one place and can be created in each other’s company. Until recently, some of these images have lived only on social media, and to display them in a museum context and on billboards is very exciting. They are as striking as they are important.”

The exhibition features photographs from three recent series: The Hair Appointment (2018), Ten Toes Down (2021) and Jump Ball (2019 – ongoing). The images by Jeremy Rodney-Hall and select video excerpted from The Hair Appointment (2018) offer a poignant depiction of hair braiding – be it in one’s living room as a child or at a salon – as a cultural signifier of Black womanhood. In these images, home is a shared experience, something both familiar and comforting.

Featuring a Black ballerina posing in her own home, the series Ten Toes Down(2021) photographed by Kreshonna Keane, builds on creative work Sunday School undertook with the British clothing manufacturer Freed of London, one of the first brands to mass produce and market skin tone pointe shoes for Black, Asian and mixed-race dancers. Keane’s portraits reveal a longstanding lack of diversity in the dance world, where home is the body – a site for self-expression.

First published in 2019, Jump Ball is an ongoing series exploring the relationship between basketball and African Diasporic communities. Jump Ball: Toronto photographed by Toronto’s own O’shane Howard, features young men in both traditional African attire and street-style clothing posed on the basketball courts of St. Jamestown. The series underscores the ways in which many Black communities navigate the nuances of identity, where home is not tied to one specific location. In Jump Ball: Mighty Migration (2020) photographed by Joshua Kissi, basketball is a reoccurring talisman in a series of striking family portraits, capturing the proud display of trophies and framed jerseys – symbols of hope, aspiration and kinship.

Feels Like Home is a highlight of the 2023 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival and the exhibition extends with public billboards, on view May 1-31. The billboards  feature six images by Sunday School and will be installed at the intersections of Lansdowne Avenue at Dundas Street West and at College Street, in Toronto’s west end. For more details visitscotiabankcontactphoto.com.

Feels Like Home is free for all Indigenous Peoples, AGO Members, Annual Passholders and visitors aged 25 and under. Same day tickets can now be booked in person and online. For more details on how to book your tickets or to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit AGO.ca.

Programming Highlights:
On Friday, May 5 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., join Sunday School creative director Josef Adamu and exhibition curator Emilie Croning for a free public celebration to mark the opening of Feels Like Home. Remarks will begin at 7 p.m. Included in General Admission. For more details, visit ago.ca/events/feels-home-public-opening.

On Saturday, May 6 at 2 p.m., the AGO welcomes videographer Alicia K. Harris, writer and videographer Sharine Taylor and photographer William Ukoh, for a panel discussion in Jackman Hall. Moderated by the AGO’s Emilie Croning with Sunday School creative director Josef Adamu, the panel will explore methods of storytelling that resonate with African, Caribbean and diasporic communities, and consider what home means. Advanced tickets required. For more details, visit ago.ca/events/feels-home-panel-conversation.

On Friday, May 26 at 6 p.m., as part of the AGO’s museum-wide celebrations and artists, Feels Like Home will welcome a dancer inside the exhibition, accompanied by live music courtesy of Strings From Paris. This one-night only performance is free with General Admission. For more details, visitago.ca/events/ago-friday-nights-celebrating-new-exhibitions-0.