Sandra Brewster

By Way of Communion

Sandra Brewster presents her first public sculpture A Place to Put Your Things on Toronto's waterfront.


The exhibition Sandra Brewster: By Way of Communion presents two new commissions including the first public sculpture by Toronto-based Canadian artist Sandra Brewster. The two works, DENSE (which closed on May 1, 2022) and A Place to Put Your Things, offer different facets of the artist’s practice while addressing themes of place and belonging.

As first-generation Canadians, stories passed down from parents and loved ones give us a sense of belonging to a place in which we have never lived. These stories help us intuitively connect to a land, a history, and people that ingrain us with a sense of self far better than any label could convey.

A Place to Put Your Things
5 February – 30 September 2022

The sculpture, A Place to Put Your Things, is the second work featured in the exhibition. This large-scale installation is part of an ongoing series titled Smith that Brewster began in 2004. The series title refers to the common surname comprising the largest section of many printed telephone books. Since its inception, Brewster’s Smith series has incorporated drawing, animation, and painting, all of which include figures’ profiles made of collaged “Smith” pages from the phone book. These works point to the absurdity of assumptions that manifest as stereotypes and systems of classification, including those endured by members of the Black community. While a shared surname unites, it also offers a veil of anonymity. A common surname does not necessarily bind people through familial ties, as individuals likely manifest different behaviours, beliefs, and experiences.

The new sculpture, A Place to Put Your Things, is a departure from previous works in this series and is the artist’s first public artwork. As Brewster describes it, the piece invites participants to “a place to rest and be at peace, to unburden oneself, and simply sway at one’s own pace and rhythm. Play being a central element of the work, the sculpture connects to an inner child and can be engaged by children and adults alike.” Facing Lake Ontario, the swing gives new purpose to the location in which it is installed, and its movements can be felt from both near and far.

5 February - 1 May 2022

In DENSE, Brewster transforms The Fleck Clerestory into a world made out of memories that family members shared with her, interwoven with her own lived experiences. Two images face each other: the Essequibo River in Guyana on the east wall, a collage of Canadian and Guyanese forests on the west wall. Together, these works engage our ability to affectionately give meaning to places other than through the dynamics of nationalism and geopolitics that continue to impact displaced communities.

These soaring images appear on the walls through a process of drawing and photo-based gel transfer. Both images were printed paper, glued to the Clerestory walls, then scrubbed away. The traces of ink that remain after the paper, glue, and water used to mount the work have been removed are marked by tears, creases, and textures. This transformative process offers new perspectives of the original images, alluding to how one’s relation to a place-called-home changes with time and experience.

DENSE brings our attention to the brown and murky waters of the river — the colour of silt, sediment, and invisible fallen leaves — as well as the impenetrable forest. This fogginess lends itself well to how contemporary diasporic movements eclipse the seemingly singular definitions of Black communities. Brewster embraces this mystery as an act of refusal, countering imposed narratives of how afro-descendent Diaspora have fostered senses of belonging in places where they were once enslaved.

DENSE illustrates how wonder and imagination are at the core of transferring knowledge from one generation to another. Storytelling is an incredible medium for connecting to a home that has not been experienced first-hand. It is an empowering and expansive journey that unfolds because of our ability to imagine and share our narratives. After all, aren’t we the embodiment of accumulated experiences with people and places, affections and memories? Through this new installation, Brewster invites us to cherish the people and environments that shape our lives, as well as to prioritize a sense of co-existence and community grounded in continually evolving acts of remembrance.

Sandra Brewster is a Canadian visual artist based in Toronto. She engages with themes including identity, representation, and memory, centring a Black presence. The daughter of Guyanese-born parents, she is especially attuned to the experiences of people of Caribbean heritage and their ongoing relationships with back home. Brewster’s meditations on being and place are expressed within her drawings, video, and photo-based mixed media works that range from 2-dimensional pieces to installations that incorporate the architecture of spaces.

View Sandra Brewster's reading list.

Recent solo exhibitions include Blur at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2019/20), Token | Contemporary Ongoing at A Space Gallery in Toronto, Or Gallery in Vancouver and the Art Gallery of Guelph. Brewster’s work has been exhibited in group exhibitions including Identity in Flux, organized by VISART, Rajko MamuzićGallery, Novi Sad, Serbia; travelling to National Gallery of Macedonia Skoplje in Northern Macedonia; Tivat Cultural Center Gallery in Montenegro; Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art, organized by the Royal Ontario Museum, travelled to Musée des beaux arts in Montreal, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, NFL, Canada (publication forthcoming); and Breaking The Frame, curated by Phillip Prodger, Royal Ontario Museum. Her works have been featured at LagosPhoto Festival 2018 in Nigeria, Aljira Contemporary Art Center in New Jersey, and Allegheny Art Galleries in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Brewster’s exhibition It’s all a blur…, Georgia Scherman Projects, received the Gattuso Prize for outstanding featured exhibition of CONTACT Photography Festival 2017. She was the 2018 recipient of the Artist Prize from Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts. Brewster’s works are currently on view as part of Fragments of Epic Memory, Art Gallery of Ontario (through February 21, 2022); Blur, an installation in the atrium of Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Precious Sense at Harnett Gallery, University of Rochester, NY, USA (2022). Upcoming exhibitions include Take a Little Trip, Olga Korper Gallery and Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today, MCA Chicago.

This exhibition is part of ArtworxTO.