The Black Canadians (after Cooke)

Deanna Bowen, The Black Canadians (after Cooke) [detail], 2022. © Deanna Bowen. Courtesy the artist and MKG127

The Black Canadians (after Cooke) - Deanna Bowen

The Black Canadians (after Cooke)

In this monumental new work, Deanna Bowen expands her family history into a broader examination of discrimination in North America over the centuries.

Rooted in a chronology that begins with the artist’s great-great-great grandfather and ends with the birth of her mother in 1943, The Black Canadians (after Cooke) also maps the United Kingdom’s abolition of slavery in 1833 and the trade’s colonial legacy.

The title references a Maclean’s magazine article written in 1911 by Britton B. Cooke, which presented his argument against Black immigration to Canada from the United States. Bowen’s forebears were such immigrants, and were fleeing deadly violence on Muscogee territory in today’s Oklahoma. The family’s journey was further complicated by discriminatory Canadian policies affecting Indigenous land rights and Black immigration.  

This major work – among the largest the Gallery has ever installed – has been developed upon lines of research and archival documentation presented in Bowen’s critically acclaimed travelling exhibition Black Drones in the Hive (2020), organized by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery; The God of Gods: A Canadian Play (2019), at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto; and The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin (2020), presented at the Gropius Bau as part of the 11th Berlin Biennale.

In each of these exhibitions, Bowen created visual narratives drawn from publicly available archival sources to assess the different implications for European, Black, Indigenous and other racialized Canadians from the 19th to the mid-20th century. This era included Confederation, the South African War and two World Wars. It also comprised the founding of the National Gallery of Canada, in 1880, a formative moment during which a young country was striving to secure its place on the world stage, and sharing its vision through politics, arts and culture.

Exploring the complex history of colonialism, the trade of enslaved peoples, and Black migration through the lens of the artist’s own family’s experiences, The Black Canadians (after Cooke) restores generations of voices in a thought-provoking commentary on the enduring impact of prevailing cultural norms.


Until Fall 2024


National Gallery of Canada Exterior along South façade
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

Supported by

Scotiabank Photography Program

Deanna Bowen, The Black Canadians (after Cooke), 2023, installed at the National Gallery of Canada, 2023.

Deanna Bowen, The Black Canadians (after Cooke), 2023, installed at the National Gallery of Canada, 2023. © Deanna Bowen. Photo: NGC


Deanna Bowen is the descendant of two Black pioneer families who moved from Alabama and Kentucky to settle in Amber Valley and Campsie on the Alberta prairie. Born in 1969 in Oakland, California, the artist currently divides her time between Toronto and Montreal.

Deanna Bowen

Photo : Courtesy of the Artist

Through a repertoire of artistic gestures, Bowen’s work defines the Black body, tracing its presence and movement in time and place. Since the early 1990s, the core of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary practice has been her family history. In recent years, she has focused on a close examination of her family’s migration and their connections to Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley and Black Strathcona, the “All-Black” towns of Oklahoma, the Exoduster migration and the Ku Klux Klan.

Bowen has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Scotiabank Photography Award (2021), a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and the William H. Johnson Prize (2014). Previous exhibitions include Black Drones in the Hive (2020), The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin (2020) and The God of Gods: A Canadian Play (2019). Her writing, interviews and art have been featured in Canadian ArtThe Capilano ReviewThe Black Prairie Archives and Transition Magazine. She was also editor of the 2019 anthology Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada.

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Becoming Deanna Bowen

Becoming Deanna Bowen

In The Black Canadians (after Cooke), Deanna Bowen expands her family history into a broader examination of discrimination in North America over the centuries.

I can’t see how I would be able to go forward and survive — even thrive ... if I didn’t go back.

— Deanna Bowen

with Women

Leading with Women makes art accessible to all by extending large-scale installations to the Gallery’s outdoor spaces. Launched in 2021, the three-year series highlights three separate Canadian artists whose work is represented in the national art collection.

The first in the series was Barcelone by Geneviève Cadieux, which was unveiled in June 2021. The Black Canadians (after Cooke) by Deanna Bowen is the second installation of the series.

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