By Neil Armstrong
A Toronto artist is celebrating twenty-five years of documenting the lives of Black Canadians through his posters.
Robert Small, artrepreneur of Legacy Enterprises, is doing so in his Black History Month 2019 Legacy poster themed “The Yearbook” showcasing some of the people he has drawn over that time, those currently being featured, and some who will be in the future.
He is primarily buoyed by the community’s response noting that every year he is energized to do it again for the following year because of the reactions of people.
“For me, that’s always been an energy booster in that regard and knowing that my posters are having an impact in the school system,” he says.
He also enjoys doing it knowing that his children “will grow up knowing that their father did something that very few have accomplished.”
When he created the first poster in 1995, Small just wanted to get his name out there where anywhere he showed his artwork people would mention the work of Ugandan-Canadian artist David Kibuuka.
He said people also alluded to the work of Jamaican-Canadian photographer, Michael Chambers, and so he thought about being in the middle ground between both of them.
Their work inspired him and today he considers both men his role models.
|Photo contributed Robert Small, Artrepreneur of Legacy Enterprises who is celebrating his 25th anniversary of creating the Legacy Poster|
Small also had a student loan to pay off for his studies at the University of Windsor so that was further motivation to get his name out in the community.
To create the annual poster, he takes recommendations from the community, chooses community stalwarts but also tries to have a balance of males and females, diverse fields that they represent, “as well as the diversity with respect to gender but also with respect to which part of the country they’re at.”
He usually features people based on their accomplishments from Ontario and Nova Scotia because his posters are very popular in those provinces.
The artist intends to do some research on western Canada, the Maritimes and the Yukon Territory to find people who he can feature on future posters.
Regarding the theme of the poster, Small said he was thinking about how to celebrate its past as well as the present and so it was obvious that he had to talk about the future.
“So, I thought that calling it ‘the yearbook,’ obviously, a yearbook always focuses on the past and the present of a school year, whatever. I thought it would be really interesting and challenging to me to have all the pictures of those who have been on the poster before to really show the magnitude of how many people I’ve covered over the years.”
Small said it was fitting this one time, given the theme, to give a preview of who he will have on future posters but usually who will appear on the poster is usually a surprise.
As a result, for the first time, he has photos of some of whom he will feature in the future, like trendsetters Dalton Higgins, Kike Ojo, Barbara Hamilton-Hinch and Rosella Fraser.
The 2019 Legacy Poster will be launched at the Ontario Black History Society’s Black History Month kick-off brunch at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on January 27.
Small says he finds it very inspiring to be launching it at this signature event which has been consistent and which celebrates everyone coming together to recognize Black History Month.
He also acknowledged that his poster has withstood the years, noting that when he started there were several other posters promoting Black History that apparently are no longer around.
Initially, he called it ‘The Official Black History Month Poster’ but decided to change the name because of these competing posters, and when in 2007 the Bank of Montreal wanted to put his poster in every branch across Canada.
“I was having problems with the name itself because it was too long to say in an interview,” says Small, noting that it was too convoluted and he was having problems with the term ‘black’.
“Because if I asked ten people randomly what does black mean, ten black people will come up with ten different explanations. So I just felt that I was calling my book markers ‘Legacy’ at the time because ‘legacy’ can only fit on the book marker so I decided why don’t I call the poster ‘legacy’ and it will be fitting because I’m actually benefitting from the legacy of calling it The Official Black History Month Poster while I’m still alive.”
It also happened at about the time he became a father so he thought it was really a legacy to leave to his two daughters.
Featured on it this year’s poster are broadcast journalist Marci Ien, community advocate Ginelle Skerritt, the late Halifax educator Wade Smith, the late lawyer and community activist Charles Roach, former boxer Charles Jones and historian Dorothy Williams.
Over the past 25 years, several Jamaicans have been featured on Small’s posters including Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Jully Black, Michael Chambers, Michael Lee-Chin, Dudley Laws, Sherona Hall, Afua Cooper, d’bi.young anitafrika, Trey Anthony, Pamela Appelt, Avis Glaze, among others.