A year that's worth a thousand words

The Instagram images by local artists that defined 2020.

It was the year that we were housebound—but, even more than that, screenbound: Living our lives through FaceTime and Zoom and the vicarious thrill of one another's sourdough-studded selfies. As everything from theatre to live music made the pivot to online showings, it makes sense that fine art would also jump into our feeds like never before—after all, if Instagram is the kingdom of visuals, should it not be a natural home for visual art? (Cases for the photo-sharing app as the demise of art as we know itand its saviour—abound for the curious.) 

Yes, while gallery doors were shut, while the sky fell, we needed what only art can give—meaning and understanding and healing and context—more than ever. Below, we share a handful of Halifax artists' work that gave all that and more, stopping us mid-doomscroll time and again to remind us what it's like to feel.

Here's hoping it does the same for you:

click to enlarge SÉAMUS GALLAGHER
Séamus Gallagher

Untitled by Séamus Gallagher

“Don’t wanna live in the same world as a trillionaire but at least my nails are nice” Séamus Gallagher captioned this photo series they shared to Instagram in late May. Aside from being a glamorous guide to washing your hands—in a time when we were all finally learning the importance of sudsing up—it also delivered a hit of the Starfish award-winning artist's signature internet-shorthand-filled, pop-art-powered energy: In a year where everything was burning to ash, their anxiety-laced neon and high drag glamour both identified how we felt and helped distract us from it. 


click to enlarge JORDAN BENNETT
Jordan Bennett

Keep All Eyes on Mi’kma’ki by Jordan Bennett

If the art world belonged to anyone this year, a strong case could be made for Bennett’s ownership: The installation artist placed on The 2020 Sobey Award long list, co-crafted the winning design for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and won the 2020 Masterworks Arts Award for his 100-foot long site-specific sculptural work Tepkik. A 2020 accomplishment of his to not be slept on, though, was creating this artwork, printed as stickers and re-shared thousands of times since he originally posted it on Instagram in October, becoming the image of a movement as people rallied to support the treaty right to a moderate livelihood fishery in Sipekne’katik First Nation.


click to enlarge TEE JOHNNY AND ARJUN LAL
Tee Johnny and Arjun Lal

I never have enough time to care for myself  by Tee Johnny and Arjun Lal

Arjun Lal has made a name for themselves crafting mixed-media work that champions inclusion and, at times, shreds your comfort zone into deliciously sharp shards. (Proof of the former is the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ Flag they designed that towers outside the baggage hall of Halifax Stanfield International Airport; the latter shows up in works like an anatomically correct tea service called Pee Party.) In June, as part of a social media residency at The Centre For Art Tapes, Lal shared a series of work including this image, which they directed and Tee Johnny photographed. At a glance, the unvarnished reality of sheltering-in-place is presented (even though the image was originally created in 2019), awash in the sort of evocative blue light that suggests a thrumming television is on, just outside the shot. During the heart of lockdown, we had nothing to fill our time for months—but finding the time to care for ourselves was still a challenge (thank the collective trauma). Even more difficult? How Lal’s caption on the image leaves us asking who affords the luxury of self-care and who is excluded from it.


click to enlarge BRIA MILLER
Bria Miller

Black Lives Matter by Bria Miller

Multi-disciplinary artist Bria Miller has been illustrating the scenes and subject matter mainstream art has left behind for over half a decade. Along the way, her Black Lives Matter poster—which, by now, you’ve seen taped up in a million Halifax living room windows and coffee shops—went from an item that made people avoid her table at markets to a consistently sold-out print, a piece of iconography of a movement’s mainstream reckoning.  Read more about Miller's work here.


I Wish I Was A Real Person by Duane Jones

Artist, podcast pioneer and fashion designer Duane Jones—founder of the label Art Pays Me—is, by this point, used to filling the heads of Haligonians with food for thought that the city feasts upon. His recent turn to fine art prints are a perfect example—and began with Instagrammed progress postings of this piece, a portrait of the legendary neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and a riff on Basquiat’s famed quote “I’m Not a Real Person. I’m a Legend.”  

Basquait “is both a legend AND a real person in art history yet most people outside of creative circles know the names Picasso, Warhol or Van Gogh, but if asked to name a successful Black artist who wasn’t an actor or musician they would be at a loss,” Jones said in a post showcasing the finished piece.  “While this is a portrait of Basquiat, it represents all Black artists whose narratives and identities have been obscured from art history and contemporary art culture. “


click to enlarge NAT CHANTEL AND JEN YAKAMOVICH
Nat Chantel and Jen Yakamovich

Conspiring (to breathe) by Nat Chantel and Jen Yakamovich

Nocturne festival mainstay Nat Chantel has long blended sound and performance to build intense-yet-ephemeral experiences of expression for BIPOC folks (look no further than her landmark 2019 piece The Silence and Sound After for proof.) In 2020—a time when this sort of work was needed as acutely as ever—the artist doubled down on her themes and focus, updating her Instagram with daily self-care prompts and this performance, a socially distant collaborative work created with Jen Yakamovich as part of this year’s EVERYSEEKER Festival that's captured here in a performance still. "As I reflect upon it now, these questions come to mind: How do we breathe and grow within the world when the pain and trauma that exists is already written and bound to us even from within the womb?” asks Chantel in the original post. "How does that trauma impact our breath as we nurture life and our presence in this moment?”

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Get more Halifax

Our Thursday email gets you caught up with The Coast. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.