A Sneak Peek at This Year’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

The Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival is officially set to launch its 26th edition in Toronto next month, and it’ll bring a diverse host of thought-provoking lens-based works from Canadian, Indigenous, and international artists to the city. The festival will encourage viewers to reflect on many of the world’s ongoing conflicts through exhibitions, site-specific installations, and commissioned projects at museums, galleries, and public spaces across Toronto.

More than 140 exhibitions from a variety of acclaimed and emerging artists, documentary photographers, and photojournalists will be on display in locations across the Greater Toronto Area throughout the festival, which will span the entire month of May. Each year, the festival aims to expand its content to reflect a wider range of perspectives and experiences, and this year is no exception. The featured works will explore themes including but not limited to the state of the environment and the impact of humanity and geopolitics on climate change; Black culture and identity; effects of and responses to colonialism and systemic racism; and perspectives on land, borders, intergenerational knowledge, and histories. 

“CONTACT continues to center BIPOC voices through projects that confront local and global realities to broaden knowledge and stimulate conversation,” reads a news release about the festival. “The Festival aims to provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue by fostering creative engagements between contemporary artists and the eminent local and international curators of our time, whose critical perspectives amplify the power of photography and bring new perspectives to the public discourse.”

Many talented artists from around the world are set to present their work at the festival this spring, but we’ve selected a few must-see creators to look out for when you attend this much-anticipated cultural event.

Tyler Mitchell — Cultural Turns: CONTACT Gallery

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Tyler Mitchell, Riverside Scene, 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
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Tyler Mitchell, the photographer who made history by photographing Beyoncé for Vogue‘s September 2018 cover, should certainly be on your radar. The African American photographer often explores themes of identity politics, human rights, the relationship of photography to social change, and the African diaspora in his work. He has described his practice as “Black utopic vision, in which the young Black men and women around me look dignified, are presented as a community, and also ask the tough questions in terms of: what are the things we’ve been historically denied?” His three-part exhibition called Cultural Turns, which will be on display at the CONTACT Gallery as well as outside Metro Hall and on downtown billboards, will mark his first solo exhibition in Canada.

Aïda Muluneh — Water Life

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Aïda Muluneh, Star Shine, Moon Glow, 2018. Courtesy of the artist. © Aïda Muluneh
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Aïda Muluneh’s Water Life is another exhibition you don’t want to miss. The Ethiopian-born artist’s series will be on display at the Textile Museum of Canada, and it features vibrant photographs that aim to address the impact of living without access to clean water on women and girls living in rural regions. The colourful images depict women wearing red, yellow, and blue garments that are inspired by traditional, regional Ethiopian dress, while their bodies and faces are transformed by adaptations of traditional body-paint ornamentation. According to the artist, “each piece is a reflection in addressing the impact of water access as it relates to women’s liberation, health, sanitation, and education.”

Mahtab Hussain — An Ocean in a Drop: Muslims in Toronto

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Mahtab Hussain, Ruze Cetin, 2021, from the series Ocean in a Drop: Muslims in Toronto. Courtesy of the artist and Chris Boot, © Mahtab Hussain 2021
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British artist Mahtab Hussain is also one to watch. Known for his photographic street portraits that address and challenge the poor visibility and stereotyping of Muslims in mainstream art and media, Hussain’s installation features photos of Toronto’s Muslim youth in ways that highlight their unique individual identities, contributions, and perspectives. Called An Ocean in a Drop: Muslims in Toronto, this outdoor installation will be on display on the grounds of the Aga Khan Museum.

Shine On: Photographs from The BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program

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Hannah Somers, A Form of Dance, 2021. Courtesy of the artist
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The inaugural exhibition of photographs produced by mentees in the BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program (BMP) will be on display at Nathan Phillips Square throughout the month of May, and it’s sure to be a can’t-miss experience. Called Shine On, this exhibition of work from 15 emerging artists features critical and creative explorations in genres ranging from portraiture, to fashion, to still life. Founded by Sheridan College professor Heather Morton, BPM launched in Toronto in September 2020 as a way to encourage diversity in the photographic industry and to address systemic barriers faced by emerging BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) photographers.