Deanna Bowen is a descendant of the Alabama and Kentucky born Black Prairie pioneers of Amber Valley and Campsie, Alberta. Bowen’s family history has been the central pivot of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary works since the early 1990s. Her broader artistic/educational practice examines history, historical writing and the ways in which artistic and technological advancements impact individual and collective authorship. She is a 2016 Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and recipient of the 2014 William H. Johnson Prize.
MVS, Interdisciplinary Film & Video, University of Toronto
BFA, Sculpture, Emily Carr College of Art and Design
Areas of Expertise
- Interdisciplinary Art
- Performance for Galleries, Stage and Camera
- Documentary and Experimental Film & Video
- Conceptual Art
- Public Interventions
- Black Queer/Feminist/Decolonial Practices
- Genealogical Research
My practice revolves around the research and creation of artworks derived from interrogations of local and international histories, American slavery, Migration & Diaspora studies, trauma theory and corollary discussions of memory and testimony, debates about voice and literacy, individual and collective authorship, canonical revision, and political art production. My works draw from archives and lived experiences of Afro-Creeks and African North Americans in the Western and Prairie Provinces, Pacific Northwest, as well as the Southern and Mid Western states of Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
More intimately, I have been symbolically reinterpreting memories of growing up in a small, rigid, religious Black community in Western Canada. This pioneering community of Alabama and Kentucky born ex-slaves are noted for their epic mobilizations from the all-black towns of Oklahoma and Kansas and their stoic efforts to overcome the hardships of the past via their exploration of new landscapes in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Accordingly, my works explore the creative and spiritual potential of the known and unknown memories of a community informed, yet geographically detached from its originating physical, political, and emotional traumatic contexts. Reaching beyond these ambitions, my work geographically maps two under-examined, yet historically critical migrations from the American West into Canada at the beginning of the 20th Century.
In recent years, I have been closely researching and producing interdisciplinary works about the migration of my maternal grandmother’s family (Bowen) from rural Pine Flat, Alabama to Amber Valley, Alberta (via Clearview, Oklahoma) in the early 1900s. My current project involves the completion of An Exoduster’s Archive, a two-year program of field research and artistic creation about my maternal grandfather’s family (Risby) migration from Cadiz, Kentucky to Campsie, Alberta (via Nicodemus, Kansas) in 1910. Various group exhibitions and commissioned projects provide me with an opportunity to extend knowledge gleaned in this personal work to broader archival interrogations that reveal the connections between racialized antagonisms and the inscription/omission of ethnic identities.
My use of the autobiographical form reflects an intense preoccupation with representation, self determination, and notions of political potency via self-inscription, the mechanics of language, and a greater understanding that art making is a form of historical writing – be it drawn, textual, still or moving image, performative, or object-based. These considerations are supported by an extended premise that the subsequent exhibition of my “documentary” work within gallery and museum systems is an alternate form of interventionist publishing that endeavors to insert outsider/critical ‘texts’ into dominant systems of thought.
For more information, visit my website: http://www.deannabowen.ca.