Above Image: “Harriet and the North Star,” a collaboration between Edreys Wajed (also a Buffalo artist) and Ahmad Jordan.
On July 4th, while Americans will be celebrating the country’s most important national holiday, Ahmad Jordan, a Buffalo-born artist who now lives in Toronto, will host his own celebration of independence, although not necessarily a patriotic one. His observance will take the form of an art exhibition of Harriet Tubman and will depict the famous freedom fighter in a variety of styles from comic art to fine art. Jordan will be hosting his celebration of Tubman in Canada, where Harriet and so many other slaves sought refuge from American captivity.
Harriet Tubman: Past, Present & Future will take place at A Different Booklist Culture Centre on 779 Bathurst St. near Bloor. The exhibit will run through the month of July after the opening reception on July 4th, at 7pm. Admission is free.
Jordan, who attended Hutch Tech High School and studied graphic design at Buffalo State College, works as a freelance graphic designer and writer. He had the idea for his eclectic art exhibition after penning a revenge-fantasy fiction novel titled Harriet Tubman vs. America, which depicts Tubman as a literal freedom fighter.
“It’s a comic book-inspired version of Harriet Tubman. She’s a master of an African martial-arts style called engolo. So while she’s freeing slaves, she’s kicking slave-master ass at the same time,” Jordan said. “When I finished the book, I wanted to keep going but not as a novel. I wanted to explore the same ideas in art. So I started asking myself, ‘What if Harriet Tubman was alive today? What would she be doing?’” The results of these ruminations shaped the art exhibition titled Harriet Tubman: Past, Present & Future, which, as the title suggests, explores Tubman’s legacy in the mid-nineteenth century, but also speculates how Harriet might have influenced American culture if she were alive and active today—or even in the distant future.
“I did an illustration of Harriet as a recruit of The Black Panther Party and then as part of The Black Panther Marvel universe. I even illustrated her as the CEO of a start-up company,” Jordan recalled. He posted his work on Facebook to see how people would react and it took off from there. He began receiving contributions from other artists, some from far away as Uganda, Madagascar, Mauritius and even from one artist residing in Warsaw, Poland.
As he saw his role expanding from artist to curator, Jordan took the growing body of work to Itah Sadu, the Executive Director of A Different Booklist Cultural Centre, a non-profit culture center dedicated to the history of people of African and Caribbean ancestry. “Itah understood the concept immediately,” Jordan said. “They do a lot to spread black history in Toronto. Even though they’re not a traditional gallery, they were the logical choice for this exhibition.”
Every year, A Different Booklist organizes in conjunction with the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) the Underground Railroad Freedom Train ride in celebration of Emancipation Day (August 1st), when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery throughout most of the British Empire. This festive event features talks and singing aboard the TTC subway, which runs overnight from July 31st to August 1st. However, for 2019, Itah recognized that the Harriet Tubman: Past, Present & Future exhibition would be a perfect prologue to Emancipation Day—and a perfect counterpoint to Independence Day, when America declared independence from the British monarchy but nevertheless continued its institution of chattel slavery.
This historically significant day was also selected in protest of the Trump Administration’s recent decision to postpone plans of placing Harriet Tubman’s face on the American twenty-dollar bill. The currency redesign was announced in 2016 during the Obama administration and was supposed to be implemented by 2020. However, Steven Mnuchin, the current U.S. Treasury Secretary, announced in late May that the Trump administration would not go through with the Tubman redesign, putting it off until 2028. Mnuchin’s announcement sparked a social media outcry, and not just in the U.S.
“What better way to show disapproval for the Trump administration’s decision to delay the plan of putting Harriet on the twenty-dollar bill than to defect to Canada on Independence Day for an exhibition on Harriet Tubman,” Itah said. Harriet herself defected to Canada and settled into St. Catharines in 1851.
Harriet Tubman: Past, Present & Future will take place at A Different Booklist Culture Centre on 779 Bathurst St. near Bloor. The exhibit will run through the month of July after the opening reception on July 4th, at 7pm. Admission is free. Preview the exhibition online at www.harriettubmanvsamerica.com
(Ahmed is the son of Cheryl Jordan and Ezell Jordan of Buffalo.