Carlton unveils new space featuring Black History Month art collection created by student

Oceana Fisher James, right, poses with Carlton principal Jeff Court in front of her art collection created to improve representation for Black History Month. Submitted photo.

A 15-year-old high school student is working to bring more Black representation to her school.

Oceana Fisher James has spent the last year creating an art collection highlighting prominent figures in Black history. Her project, supported by Carlton Collection Builders for Social Justice, was chosen to launch a new gallery space in her school.

Fisher James used alcohol ink and high gloss resin for the backgrounds and charcoal to print the faces of artists, athletes and civil rights leaders.

“Last year, I didn’t feel like we had enough representation for Black History Month,” Fisher James said.

Black History Month is celebrated across several countries in February. According to the federal government, it’s a time to celebrate “any achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation it is today.”

Fisher James approached Carlton Collection Builders advisor Melanie Mirasty about putting an art collection together.

Carlton Collection Builders is a stepping stone for youth to get their work out into the local arts scene through mentorship while encouraging world change.

It started after Maria Hirsi, a Black Indigenous student, approached Mirasty for mentorship on her 11 Main Street art collection, which was featured in the John V. Hicks Gallery last year.

“I just saw an incredibly driven student who wanted to pursue this collection to allow more representation in this school,” Mirasty said of Fisher James.

“I also saw that she had a big heart for social justice.”

The new gallery space at Carlton was created while students were participating in remote learning from December 18, 2020, until January 15 of this year.

It’s not just for use by Collection Builders. Mirasty said she sees drama, welding projects or even English class presentations in the space. It’s somewhere for people to express themselves, and while art is conducive to that, the purpose of the space is bigger than just providing a gallery for artists.

Mirasty said Fisher James was the perfect choice to formally open the new space.

“The space was already informally used, but we wanted to have a formal opening and we knew Oceana would be a perfect fit because her collection started and the opening was on Feb. 1,” Mirasty said.

“We felt it would be a powerful statement for Oceana and our school to stand behind her, to support her, but then to also support Black history month in a way that is authentic — but also to open a new space and say thank you to the amazing people that worked so hard to get it ready.”

 As Fisher James worked on her collection, she also involved younger members of the Black community.

“Four of the 10 paintings were painted by children,” Fisher James explained. Two separate families participated in COVID-safe ways.

“They painted the backgrounds and I did the faces. I wanted to get the youth involved with this project and allow them to see representations of themselves.”

Those representations are important, Fisher said.

“I didn’t see a lot of it when I was a kid, and I would like future generations to see more.”