Michèle Newton hopes her year-long journey into the lives and experiences of local black women and girls opens up dialogue between females of all backgrounds.
On display for the month of January in the Barrie City Hall Rotunda, the Our Mosaic Lives exhibit tells the stories of black women from our region through photography, poetry and motivational graphics in attempt to bridge the gap most women have when meeting people from other racial backgrounds.
Newton also hopes it opens up discussion between black women with each other and creates circles of black women who know they are not alone.
“I am of mixed-race background and was raised in an all-white family,” Newton said. “I know how important it is to want to hear these stories and quotes from other black women and this exhibit will hopefully do that for other black women.”
Newton partnered with the city’s Creative Barrie department to run the exhibit at 70 Collier St., for the month with a reception on Wednesday (Jan. 9) starting at 5 p.m. and a speech from Mayor Jeff Lehman at 5:30 p.m.
Calling this project her Back to Black journey, Newton started it during February’s Black History Month in 2018 and interviewed and photographed local black women with the idea of showing the diversity and shared similarities.
“I wanted to show the many expressions and sayings of the black woman in a way that was easy for many to read, view or take in,” said Newton. “So many different women participated in this project and they all had different ways to express themselves, whether it was a more complex poem or, in one case, I had a woman sum up her thoughts by the phrase ‘You just do you’.
"Whether a mantra she lives by or not, I love it and find it inspiring.”
Having lived in Barrie since 2000, Newton has seen the city grow in its diversity, but says there's still room to grow. Knowing that Barrie is getting bigger, Newton hopes this project opens up dialogue between people from different races and helps her city become more inclusive for all.
“I once had an older lady ask me if I enjoyed my time in the islands, referring to my skin tone,” said Newton. “She had thought I had got a tan, but I told her this was actually my skin. She turned away and looked back after a bit and asked if I had been happy with Obama.
"This woman was around 70 years old and very nice, but the thing here is she didn’t know what else to say and that is unfortunate," Newton added.
"What I want the Our Lives Mosaic exhibit to do is show women no matter the colour of their skin or their background, that we are very similar and have so much in common even if just through expressions, sayings and feelings.”
The Our Mosaic Lives exhibit will also feature several portraits of black girls made possible through a collaborative partnership with artist Ellie Arscott of Girls Stand Tall.
The exhibit is on at the city hall until Jan. 31 and can be seen while the rotunda is open.