Brownstein: Black men speak through art at JAM Centre multimedia exhibition

The immersive exhibition When Big Man Talk kicks off with a film homage to activist Marcus Garvey.

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This immersive, multimedia Black History Month exhibition is called When Big Man Talk. But before anyone jumps to conclusions, ever-effusive organizer Pat Dillon-Moore of the JAM Arts Centre is quick to point out that next year’s event will be dedicated to the “Black woman voice” in the community.

“And by ‘big man,’ we are referencing those whose voices have been silenced over the last few years by COVID and other disruptions,” she says. “We’re 13 minutes into our George Floyd minutes in the Black community. We had the #MeToo movement in that period, but with all the conversations, we didn’t hear much at all from the Black men in the community, unless someone died, was wrongly profiled or when Obama came to Montreal.

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“So I decided to create this show about what it is like to be Black in Montreal now, to allow our Black men to speak.”

This exhibition will have four Black men “speaking through their art.” Daniel Saintiche will present his photography, Anthony McLennon his paintings, Garfield Morgan his paintings and textile creations, and Quentin VerCetty his digital arts.

The display can first be viewed Feb. 3 to 10 at Galerie Lucie Michel in Ville-Émard before moving to Little Burgundy’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) Hall building, Feb. 11 to 14.

An abbreviated version of When Big Man Talk will later be on display Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at N.D.G.’s Oscar Peterson Concert Hall.

The exhibition actually kicks off Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a free screening of Roy T. Anderson’s Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey. The film, being presented at the Maison de la culture de Côte-des-Neiges, focuses on the Jamaican-born activist’s time in Canada dating back over a century.

The exhibit’s VR component also comments on Garvey’s impact while in this country.

Dillon-Moore, along with Saintiche and McLennon, are in the midst of setting up the display at Galerie Lucie Michel.

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Saintiche has been documenting the Montreal Black community since the early 1970s through his photos. He has a stunning archive of close to 5,000 black-and-white stills, which serves as a fascinating visual chronicle of the resilience and contributions of Black Montrealers who have helped shape the city’s cultural landscape.

“I fell in love with photography as a CEGEP student after moving here from Haiti,” the smiling Saintiche says. “My voice has been my photography ever since, capturing both the highs and the lows. My camera is with me everywhere I go.”

“I like to think that my voice comes through my paintings, drawing on my roots in Jamaica then moving to Montreal,” says the soft-spoken McLennon. “It’s how I express myself best.”

“But we can never be complacent as artists,” Saintiche adds. “We always have to prove ourselves.”

Saintiche doesn’t feel the same pressure faced by most artists in covering rent and other fundamentals. He has a day job as a fitness trainer, which allows him to pursue his passion for photography.

“Before that, I worked for 30 years at Forward House, which offers psychiatric support services for adults dealing with mental health difficulties,” he says. “But the reality is that the whole world is in a state of turbulence. We do what we can to stay grounded. For me, photography has allowed me to do that.”

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Dillon-Moore elaborates on the exhibition’s Marcus Garvey connection.

Marcus Garvey dressed in a military uniform sits in an open-top vehicle
In this August 1922 photo, Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the “provisional president of Africa” during a parade on the opening day of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City. Photo: The Associated Press

“In 1917, a man who was Black named Marcus Garvey came to Montreal after touring America,” she notes. “Everything for him was injecting Black pride and invoking a can-do spirit.

“And let me just say that back in 1917, we weren’t exactly a popular people on this continent. But he came here with a big voice. He was from very rural Jamaica and he had travelled through 38 of the States. Then he comes to Montreal and opens the UNIA in 1919, which is still here today on Atwater and Notre-Dame (Sts.).” Pause. “Some big men talked even then!

“The point is that every year we have Black History Month, but where is the history? I think history has to inform people what we’re doing today. Garvey was a complex, controversial man, but he definitely played a role in that history, here and in so many other places around the world.”

More to the point, Dillon-Moore feels Black History Month must reach out to a younger demographic.

“For the kids who are having a tough time, especially if they’re anglophone and Black and, in a sense, an audible minority and who feel they can’t make it here, we have to let those generations know that we can punch above our weight.

“Yes, there is still a large amount of marginalization in a province where there’s a premier who says there is no systemic racism. There’s still s—loads of ceilings on our heads. But Garvey and others can help us burst through those ceilings.”

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Dillon-Moore then sings a line from Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song, one of the most influential of all Jamaican tunes: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”

Some of the song’s lyrics were taken from a Garvey speech delivered in 1937 in Nova Scotia. ‘Nough said.

For more information about When Big Man Talk, go to or

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