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Black Arts Centre opens in Surrey as hub for B.C.’s largest Black population

Gallery at Surrey Central currently showcasing Capture Photography Festival exhibit
Hafiz Akinlusi at The Black Arts Centre in Surrey on April 12, 2024, during the gallery’s current Capture Photography Festival exhibit, “Family first?” (Photo: Tom Zillich)

“Surrey is home to the largest number of Black people in B.C., and that’s why we are here,” reflected Hafiz Akinlusi as he introduced The Black Arts Centre, a modest gallery and meeting space opened last spring at Surrey Central.

It’s located on the ground floor of the Civic Hotel tower (10305 City Pkwy.), with Monday and Wednesday daytime hours only, for now.

At BLAC, Akinlusi curated the Capture Photography Festival’s current “Family First?,” exhibit, showcasing work by Jade Duncanson, Chukwudubem Ukaigwe, Delali Cofie, Deion Squires and Iris Houngbo.

“There is a need for this where Black people live and work,” Akinlusi said of the gallery. “When you walk around Surrey, you can see that it’s a drastically different demographic than, say, downtown Vancouver. We use the term Surrey-centrism, putting something in the centre of where we live and what work we do.”

The Black Arts Centre’s roots were first planted in 2020 by Whalley-based Solid State Community Industries, which works to help people from racialized backgrounds build their own enterprises. Last summer, the gallery launched with an “open studio” program where people could create art, followed by a couple of exhibits including the current one, focused on photography.

“Because there were delays with opening the space, we did a lot of partnerships with, like, Surrey Art Gallery and Polygon (gallery in North Vancouver), collaborations,” noted Akinlusi, who co-directs BLAC with Olumoroti Soji-George and Vanessa Fajemisin.

Wide-angle view of Hafiz Akinlusi inside The Black Arts Centre in Surrey on April 12, 2024. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
A wall of Jade Duncanson’s photographs at The Black Arts Centre in Surrey on April 12, 2024, as part of Capture Photography Festival. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

The arts centre boasts high ceilings, bright interior, multi-coloured walls and a library/lounge at the entrance.

“We want to do a lot of these (exhibits) here, and also to test ideas and experiment with what the space could be,” Akinlusi said. “This is the only artist-run centre in Surrey, if I’m not mistaken. When you see Vancouver, there are a myriad of art centres and galleries. The question becomes, why are there not artist-run spaces here in Surrey? There are so many artists here, and this one is for Black artists and run by them, all the way, all Black.

“We want to be a place for people to know that’s possible,” he added, “where a kid who goes to high school here can walk past the space and come in and see art on the walls and be able to relate to the idea of being an artist or working in the arts or doing cultural work and, beyond the arts, just having a space for people to connect.”

With capitalism, Akinlusi confirmed, “everything is either a coffee shop or something where you have to pay to engage to meet people. We want people to be able to come in here and engage with each other without having the pressure of having to exchange money for something.”

From Nigeria, Akinlusi moved to Canada in 2015 to study and earn an economics degree at Simon Fraser University. Now 25, he got involved in the local arts scene with work as a DJ and sound, and has now curated a photography exhibit as part of the Capture festival.

Photograph by Delali Cofie (“Sunday Afternoon - Sisters in the Courtyard,” 2021) on view at The Black Arts Centre in Surrey on April 12, 2024, as part of Capture Photography Festival.(Photo: Tom Zillich)

“Family First?” will be shown at The Black Arts Centre until the end of June, delving into “the intricate dynamics of Black familial relationships and the journey of self-discovery,” Akinlusi explained.

“It was a really lonely and isolated experience moving to this new country, not having anyone around me,” he recalled, “and I think about how different things would have been for me if spaces like this existed then, where I could come and know that if I know nobody going in to the space, I’m going to leave having made a new friend or a new acquaintance or having learned something.”

The exhibit features Jade Duncanson’s photographs of sisters bonding outside the doors of an apartment, among other work.

“The show is about thinking about family dynamics and how they go beyond what is seen as the norm — the hetero-normative nuclear family with, like, the dad, the mom and the kids,” Akinlusi added. “I was thinking a lot about my own relationship with my family and about distance and separation and how, because I’m here, I’m unable to experience certain things with them over there, and how a lot of my relationships to my family now, as you get older, you move away from the family that raised you. It kind of ends up relating to memory, living on memories of experiences with them.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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