On August 9, 2015 at 12pm, Toronto will bear witness to one of the most extraordinary images of its cosmopolitan self.

This not-to-be-missed, 300-person-strong street procession by Marlon Griffith, punctuated by spoken word poetry by some of Toronto’s most promising “word-warriors,” weaves through the heart of Toronto’s downtown core along University Avenue from Queen’s Park to City Hall. This commissioned procession will be staged at TO2015’s Parapan American Games.

The procession is based on the Anishinaabe Seven Grandfather Teachings: Wisdom, Courage, Respect, Honesty, Truth, Humility, and Love—themes that are dramatized in the elaborate, custom-designed costumes and newly conceived mobility devices and that structure the “bands” of the procession. Importantly, these teachings are also the ethical basis of the project and inform the working principles of its making.

A project over two years in the making, Ring of Fire brings together members of local First Nations, disability, capoeira and spoken word communities in an unprecedented collaboration. As a project dedicated to the future of Toronto, this project is made by Torontonians for Torontonians through the multigenerational and transcultural contribution of hundreds of people from across the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. This pathbreaking, participatory art project is a proposition toward constituting new modes of civic participation and alternative models of performative public address.

Using the structural dynamic of Trinidadian Carnival and appropriating the “mas camp” as a site of co-authored exchange, this elaborate and multifaceted project innovates a new kind of pedagogy. From spoken word poets learning from First Nations and deaf youth who sign their poems in the procession, to art organizations learning from persons with disabilities (and becoming more accessible in the process), to mixing integrated dance with traditional forms of capoeira and pow-wow and rethinking the very practice of movement in a street procession, this project seeks to mobilize Toronto’s latent energy, positioning it as a place for a new form of collective and performative cultural resistance that is also a contemporary form of festive celebration.

Ring of Fire is commissioned by the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) and curated by Emelie Chhangur. The project is produced in partnership with York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, Art Starts, and SKETCH, where “mas camps” have been developed and hosted. Legendary artist/activist Rose Jacobson and Elder Duke Redbird are project mentors.

Marlon Griffith has participated in residencies and exhibited extensively across the globe. Recent projects include new commissions for 7th Gwangju Biennale (Gwangju, Korea, 2008), CAPE09 Biennial (Cape Town, South Africa, 2009), Manifesta 9 Parallel Projects (Hasselt, Belgium, 2012), Aichi Triennale (Nagoya, Japan 2013), Tate Modern (London, England, 2014) and the Art Gallery of York University (Toronto, Canada, 2015). In 2010, Griffith was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Award.

Curator Emelie Chhangur is known for her process-based, participatory curatorial practice and the creation of long-term collaborative projects that have been performatively staged within and outside the gallery context. She is dedicated to enacting activism from within an institutional framework, questioning the nature and social function of the contemporary art gallery through embedded criticality and new methods of gallery “in-reach.”

For more information on the project and to view images of the work in progress, please visit: ringoffire.theagyuisoutthere.org

Symbols of Endurance, an exhibition of Griffith’s work, takes place at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) from 23 September–6 December 2015, and a book, generously supported by the Partners in Art (PIA), will be published in 2016.

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is a public, university-affiliated, non-profit contemporary art gallery supported by York University, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of Ontario through the Ontario Arts Council, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, and by its membership. Additional support for Ring of Fire was provided by IGNITE Ontario, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, Honey Family Foundation and the Vital Toronto Fund at the Toronto Foundation, and the Toronto Arts Council: Targeted Enhanced Funding.

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