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A Hamilton Homecoming

For Roger and Kareem-Anthony Ferreira, their exhibition is truly a family affair. Gatherings is on at the AGH until Jan. 8.

I met with Roger and Kareem-Anthony Ferreira as family and friends were arriving for a celebration of Gatherings, their father-son exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Our conversations were tucked between the many greetings of well-wishers who soon overwhelmed the gallery with chatter and cheer. Gatherings is a homecoming that has grown from this same expansive circle of love on display during our conversations: an interview punctuated by hugs, hellos and iPhone photos of adorable grandchildren. 

Gatherings is a fitting tribute to the fatherly love that has been a driving force in Roger Ferreira’s practice. He is an artist and teacher with a provider’s mindset – he chose his subjects and commissions to support his family, and organized art camps and classes to earn a living while keeping his own children occupied. Childcare also meant engaging Kareem as a collaborator on murals that once decorated walls throughout Hamilton.

Gatherings exhibits the love and learning between father and son Roger and Kareem-Anthony Ferreira. Photos: Courtesy of the
Art Gallery of Hamilton

Roger Ferreira’s works have framed familiar civic sights and local landscapes with beauty and pride while contributing to the visibility of Black culture in Hamilton, most notably in his designs for …and still I rise, a 2003 exhibition of African Canadian workers’ histories organized by the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre. A project rooted in an emergent period of Black activism in Hamilton, this work survives only as compelling sketches of triumphant figures forming a pyramid that shatters the ceiling of the past. Many of his murals, this one included, have long been painted over in Hamilton and elsewhere, making Gatherings an especially necessary project, alongside Building Cultural Legacies in the AGH’s neighbouring rooms, toward recognizing the elder Ferreira among his peers as forebear to a new generation of Hamilton artists.

With an exceptional measure of trust, Roger often enlisted a young Kareem to paint elements of his murals, sometimes with the promise of burgers in exchange. A childhood spent assisting his father in his work has given Kareem a rare instinct for working at large scale while creating works that retain a delicate intimacy. His expansive canvases capture the spontaneity of love among family and friends through the close framing and diverted attentions of their origins in family snapshots.

Kareem followed his father’s footsteps into the Studio Art program at McMaster, where he created towering, exaggerated portraits as a student of Judy Major-Girardin – the same painting professor who had instructed his father. Their shared educational foundations echo across the works in Gatherings, with a striking similarity seen between Roger’s brushstrokes and use of collaged textures in Haiti, an early student work, and Kareem’s current practice.

Even so, Kareem sought a path that differed from his father’s. Struggling to find a compelling subject to paint or a place among the graduate-level art programs in Canada, Kareem sought a new focus during a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. There, he was advised to look to his family for inspiration – a subject that fuels his present-day success.

Both Roger and Kareem have lived between two worlds – making a life in Canada while returning to Trinidad for regular visits with their large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Kareem’s first works featuring his family secured his admission to the Master of Fine Art program at the University of Arizona, where he was able to delve deeper into a personal archive of photographs capturing his Trinidadian-Canadian family “as a vehicle to express my journey of being from these two places.”

Besides their monumental scale, these images transcend their photographic sources in their collaged textures, which lend a secondary layer of meaning to these paintings. Not wanting to work from a flat white surface, Kareem collects and creates textured foundations that evoke cultural memory as well as the habit of reusing materials he sees in his Caribbean family: a resourcefulness that is both a positive counterpoint to wasteful North American habits and a symptom of deeper social inequities. 

Kareem sustains a light touch with these material underpinnings, which enable him to explore the viewpoints that these distinct cultures have of each other. Textiles printed with palm trees and hibiscus flowers signify the Canadian perception of Caribbean cultures as the playgrounds of tourists, while the Trinidadian view of Canada is preoccupied by snow. Inspired by the paper-and-scissors motif common in kindergarten, Kareem now uses laser cutting to create snowflakes and other textured motifs for these paintings. 

A lifelong apprenticeship gave Kareem the skill and motivation to celebrate his family’s stories through an art that has resonated with a new generation of affluent Black collectors who want to see their cultures represented on their walls – including LeBron James, who famously displays a large Ferreira canvas in his dining room. This success has inspired Roger in turn to pursue his own passions. Gatherings includes new floral works painted by Roger Ferreira in the last two years on large canvases left behind by Kareem as a challenge as much as happenstance. Roger was inspired by Kareem’s own symbolic use of flowers to create these colourful images, which deftly conceal figurative nods to Biblical stories among the fluid movements of petals and stamens. 

These hidden figures bring to mind a story Roger tells of challenging Kareem to find 10 faces at a time among the cracks in pavements throughout their travels as father and son. These spontaneous lessons in finding the patterns, the stories and the art in everyday life have served them both well.