Artist-in-residence Zina Saro-Wiwa

Artist-in-residence Zina Saro-Wiwa

Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University

March 30, 2023
Artist-in-residence Zina Saro-Wiwa
Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University
36 University Avenue
Queen’s University
Kingston Ontario K7L 3N6

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This March, Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University hosts world-renowned Zina Saro-Wiwa as artist-in-residence, culminating in a very special Illicit Gin Institute Assembly on Wolfe Island on March 31, 7–10pm. Other public-facing programs include a screening of Saro-Wiwa’s 2020 film Worrying the Mask: The Politics of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in the Worlds of African Art at The Isabel Centre for the Performing Arts, an episode—or two—of Spirit Led, Saro-Wiwa’s podcast series. This is the first major presentation of Saro-Wiwa’s work in Canada.

“Three days into a new adventure in snowy, freezing Ontario and I am overwhelmed by warmth and knowledge and many incredible gifts,” says Zina Saro-Wiwa. “I’m here on Illicit Gin Institute business: meeting with First Nation elders and fire keepers, learning about indigenous botanicals, researching black moonshiners of the region and the history of black entrepreneurship. All in order to deliver the most site-specific Illicit Gin Institute Assembly to date at the end of this month at a magical place called Wolfe Island.” Curated by Emelie Chhangur, Qanita Lilla and Sebastian De Line.

The Illicit Gin Institute: Assembly #6 commissioned and presented by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Hotel Wolfe Island, 1237 County Rd 96, Wolfe Island, Ontario. March 31, 2023, 7–10pm. Read more.

A social sculpture and a secular ritual that carries resonances of fellowship and solidarity, Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Assembly is a living, evolving performance piece created in collaboration with local audience-participants to share and express her findings on African sociality, botanicals, spirituality, and science. They make space for new stories to bubble forth from older forms and connect people, places and histories.

“Assemblies are portals where…flora is alive,” says Saro-Wiwa. “I am introducing a West African cultural approach to alcohol consumption which is ritual, medicinal, mindful and moderate. My Assemblies are an opportunity to explore the very idea of ‘spirit’. The history of distilled spirits is alchemical and to me occupies a very powerful nexus at which spirituality and science meet…And the events do feel spiritual but they’re also very warm, rigorous and engaging. It is social medicine.”

Zina Saro-Wiwa is a British-Nigerian artist who lives and works between Los Angeles, the United Kingdom, and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Born in 1976 in the Niger Delta region to a family with roots in Ogoniland, she initially used her art to respond to her family history of activism in the region. Saro-Wiwa works in film and photography but also with sound, food and distillation. After working as a BBC producer, presenter and reporter for more than twelve years she turned her attention to her artistic practice.

Zina Saro-Wiwa is one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Global Thinkers of 2016, recognized for her work in the Niger Delta. In April 2017 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Art. She has given talks and has shown works at biennales, museums and art fairs around the world including Tate Modern, Frieze and Basel Art Fairs and major public sites such as Times Square in Manhattan. Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, among others. She recently gave the keynote lecture for Yale’s Black Environmentalism’s conference (2022) and is currently exhibiting in the fifth Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala, India. A major solo exhibition of her work at the Pitt River Museum, Oxford opened in February 2023.

The commission, screening, residency, and podcast are made possible through funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario / Agence federale de developpement economique pour le Sud de l’Ontario and the Chancellor Dunning Trust Visitorship, Queen’s University. Partners: Hotel Wolfe Island and Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.

*Images above: (2) Zina Saro-Wiwa in front of Limestone Organic Creamery in Kingston, Ontario. (3–7) “Sensational day of foraging botanicals and feeding adorable chickadees on Belle Island. Excited to start steeping cedar, red dogwood, staghorn and shagbark hickory in my Sarogua and see what flavours and stories emerge…” Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Instagram @zswstudio.

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Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University
March 30, 2023

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