Here’s why a portrait of a Black woman just appeared on the side of a Toronto building

A building in Toronto now serves as a canvas for a stunning portrait of one of Canada’s most influential black women.

A portrait of Mary Ann Shadd by Adeyemi Adegbesan (also known as Yung Yemi) now adorns the exterior of the Mackenzie House Museum at 82 Bond Street.

Shadd was the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper called The Provincial Freeman. It fought for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights, and helped people who escaped slavery adapt to life in Ontario.

“Working on this project really allowed me to immerse myself in the history and legacy of a person who played a very important role in the history of this country and for blacks across North America,” says Adegbesan.

“I feel like the story of Mary Ann Shadd is often overlooked, but I hope that one day her contributions will find the recognition they deserve.”

Although the portrait will be on view through October 30, it is part of a program called Awakenings that was created for Emancipation Month this August, and is just one of several exhibitions.

There’s also an AR art installation by Afrofuturist Quentin VerCetty called Ancestral Uprising, a short film called Superbloom: An Emancipation Story, which launches August 18, and even a song produced and performed by Cardinal Offishall.

The song is a collaboration with the Raptors and is a “Raptorized” version of Freedom Heights (A Song for Joshua Glover) that debuted in Black History Month this year (February 2021) as part of a series called Kitchen Concerts at the Inn.

It is performed by Jully Black, Susan Carol, Savannah Ré, Emanuel and Cardinal Offishall and is available on digital streaming platforms. Proceeds will go to the NIA Center for the Arts, Canada’s first multidisciplinary professional center for black art.

The content of Awakenings was brought to life by Toronto History Museums, a group of 10 museums operated by the City of Toronto that include Mackenzie House as well as Fort York National Historic Site, Todmorden Hills and Montgomery’s Inn, where Joshua Glover was busy after escaping slavery.

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