In: STC ART

Barry Smith | What’s Your Stance? | 2024
June 29, 2024

Barry Smith | What’s Your Stance? | 2024

Barry Smith’s exhibition What’s Your Stance? was on view at Mahtay Café & Lounge in downtown St. Catharines for the majority of the month of May 2024 and into early June. Smith’s exhibition was the 18th in my continuing series of shows in the space platforming visual artists of the Niagara Region that is soon to mark two years.

Smith is not – on social media or in life – shy about his own ‘stance’ and his own political views. I’ve known him for most of my time in Niagara, and the exhibition is a series of images of photographers taking photos that Smith has captured in the act. There’s a voyeurism to the work, but the nature of the installation in the downtown St. Catharines space also allows play and interaction between the ‘characters’ as they seem to be taking pictures of each other, or are looking at people and events unknown and unseen to us.

Smith’s statement : Everyone has their opinions. Whether it be in the social, political or religious sphere. Some are based on fact, some on faith, and some are emotional due to personal experiences, education and (sadly) social media.
We all have a point of view. Some are balanced, conservative or outright risky.

I see this in the way people take photographs. Some are amateurs, some hobbyists and others are professional – but everyone has their own stance.

What’s your stance?

To say we live in a time when contention and division between peoples’ respective stances is intense is an understatement. Smith, for example, is a vocal advocate for Palestine and against the ongoing genocide perpetuated by the state of Israel and her enablers on the international scene. In our shared community – and many, many others – this is a ‘stance’ many of us see as being a default one, while others choose to stand somewhere else….

I often see things – I choose to stand, in my interpretation – through the lens of the art world, both in Canada (that imaginary nation we live in) and the larger international discourses within that sphere.

With the current situation in the Middle East, fractures – splits that expose or exacerbate hypocrisy – are becoming harder to deny. The termination of Wanda Nanibush from her position at the AGO, for example, spearheaded by someone who will allude to how art should have a social conscience and challenge us, but ‘just not that way’, or more exactly NOT in a way they ‘disagree’ with is a fine example.

I’d offer another : as many of you know, I spent nearly two decades in Saskatchewan, a place rife with racism regarding Indigenous and Settler relations. I was deeply amused – and not surprised at all – at the hypocrisy of someone I had the lamentable experience to work with in the ARC spaces publishing an article with Galleries West, decrying what he saw as ‘rising antisemitism’ in the international art world. This same person was instrumental in attempting to silence and blackball me when I published numerous factual articles about the institutional racism at his employer, the University of Saskatchewan, and I thought when I saw his blinkered whining that perhaps he had begun to see that dehumanizing others is not something that can be contained to one space, and bleeds into others, especially when you legitimize it for your own ideology, thinking it is ‘unique.’

Recently I read an engaging article from ArtForum about the rise in protests in museums and in gallery spaces and the writer – Charlotte Kent – offered a number of ideas and writers that I’ve been researching since I read the piece about how cultural spaces are stakeholders and often consistent – if not eager – manufacturers of alibis for the status quo, whether that status quo be that only one ‘type’ of art is ‘actually art’ or that some people and ideas are simply a denkverbot (to paraphrase Žižek) : of them, ‘we’ are ‘prohibited to speak.’
But, as Kent asserts ‘Museums [and by extension what fills them, as art] have never not been political.’

…I suspect I told you more about ‘my stance’ with that tangential response to Smith’s work than about his work, but I also suspect Smith would be comfortable with that, in that I ‘answered’ his question.

Born in Scotland and raised in Niagara, Barry Smith has always had a flair for humour and wit which he often employs in the titles of his photographs and his compositions. A self taught photographer, Smith has found his own unique photographic style and approach, concerned with using natural light. Smith’s photographs come to life like a fresh painting on canvas.

A past St. Catharines Art Award nominee, Smith’s pictures can be found on display throughout Niagara at various art shows and galleries.

What’s Your Stance? A Selection of Photographs by Barry Smith was on view at Mahtay Café & Lounge in downtown St. Catharines in the Spring of 2024.

You can see more of his work at his IG here.

~ Bart Gazzola

Read More