Winnipeg artist revives gallery with programming not bound by genre or geography

Winnipeg artist revives gallery with programming not bound by genre or geography

An art gallery in Winnipeg’s Exchange District has turned into a one-man show — but Luther Konadu’s vision for Blinkers Art and Project Space isn’t limited by genre or geography.

The four original founders of Blinkers, who have since all moved out of Winnipeg, were waiting for the lease to expire when Konadu stepped up to keep the Exchange District gallery open. 

Now the 31-year-old is gallery director — a volunteer position. He picks the programming, takes care of daily operations and writes grants for funding to pay the artists who present their work at Blinkers. 

Konadu said his vision for the programming is genre-non-specific, as it’s important for artists exhibiting in the space at 520 Hargrave St. to be able to “move in between modes of being.”

woman in winter jacket lunges infront of a building where her solo exhibition is
Artist Melanie Jame Wolf lunges in excitement in front of Blinkers Art and Project Space. (Submitted by Melanie Jame Wolf)

“I didn’t want to box us into a single category as an organization, and I wanted to kind of leave it open for various experimental practices to be able to kind of flourish in the space,” said Konadu, who’s been based in Winnipeg for eight years since attending the University of Manitoba’s fine arts program.

Konadu himself is a multidisciplinary artist, and his work has been shown nationally and internationally. As his main gig, he’s the assistant curator at Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art, and he’s also the editor in chief and founder for the online magazine Public Parking. In 2020, Konadu was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award, representing the Prairies.

Since he’s been in charge at Blinkers, his programs have featured mostly national and international artists. For Konadu, it’s important to show art from outside Winnipeg so those who can’t travel can still experience art from outside the community in a local space. 

“Winnipeg has a really great vibrant arts community here, and it’s always nice to position the community in an international context,” he said.

“By bringing all these people into the city, we’re kind of intermingling in that way within the larger contemporary art community.”

Performance as labour, work

Melanie Jame Wolf’s solo exhibition, I never knew what to do with my hands, is currently showing at Blinkers until Feb. 4. This is the Australian-born and Berlin-based artist’s first time travelling to and exhibiting her work in Canada. 

She didn’t come into the visual arts sector through the traditional pathway of going to art school, she said. Her background is in choreography, and now she makes work for theatres, galleries and screen spaces. 

Two actresses stand in front of a film backdrop, and stare into the camera
A still from Melanie Jame Wolf’s film Understudies. (Submitted by Blinkers Art and Project Space)

While she was in Winnipeg for the opening on Nov 26, she gave a movement-based workshop with Young Lungs Dance Exchange and an artist talk at the University of Manitoba. 

The throughline of the works displayed on the main floor and basement of Blinkers involve performance as labour and work, Wolf said.

The exhibition title — I never knew what to do with my hands — stems from an 1896 play she loves: The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. 

Wolf said we are not aware of our bodies until we know people are watching, and that phrase indicates the skill level of a performer. 

“Good performance looks so easy, but it’s actually a really intense skill set and there are people in all kinds of jobs doing great performances,” Wolf said.

The film on the first floor, Understudies, is also inspired by the Chekhov play, with one of the main lines being, “I am the actress.” 

a man is talking into a microphone and smiling. In an adjacent image, a clown applys makeup in the mirror
Image from Melanie Jame Wolf’s film Acts of Improbable Genius. (Submitted by Blinkers Art and Project Space)

“The film up here contains various gender-diverse bodies who are interested in becoming an actress,” Konadu said.

“And so they are performing and practicing over and over again in order to achieve that goal.”

On display in the basement of the gallery, Wolf uses humour as a form of criticism in her second film, Acts of an improbable Genius.

The audience sees the artist playing two characters side-by-side, delivering the same performance one after the other as Stand-Up Ron and Pierrot the Clown.

Gallery go-er's stand around talking to each other while others scroll on their phone
Opening night of Melanie Jame Wolf’s solo exhibition had nearly a hundred people across two floors, Luther Konadu says. (Submitted by Blinkers Art and Project Space )

Konadu said the two films counter each other, and that’s why he picked them. 

“This kind of archetype [in Acts of an improbable Genius] would normally say offensive things to the characters or the performance in the upstairs video, to these kind of femme and queer bodies.”

For the exhibition’s opening night, Konadu said there were nearly a hundred people across the two floors — evidence of the vibrancy he sees in the local art community.

Wolf was also impressed by the turnout.

“It was a really nice warm feeling that so many people turned out, and they were interested and they stayed and they spoke and they had really cool, difficult questions,” Wolf said.

That night made an impression on the international artist.

“Made me wanna come back to Winnipeg.”

Winnipeg artist revives gallery with programming not bound by genre or geography

A tiny art gallery in Winnipeg’s Exchange District is bringing in big international talent. Blinkers Art and Project Space gallery director Luther Konadu says one of his missions is to bring audiences art from outside of the community, including those who can’t travel.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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