Artist and Curator Walkthrough with Deanna Bowen and Crystal Mowry


About the Artist

Deanna Bowen is the descendant of two Black pioneer families who moved from Alabama and Kentucky to settle in Amber Valley and Campsie on the Alberta prairie. Born in 1969 in Oakland, California, the artist currently divides her time between Toronto and Montreal.

Through a repertoire of artistic gestures, Bowen’s work defines the Black body, tracing its presence and movement in time and place. Since the early 1990s, the core of her auto-ethnographic interdisciplinary practice has been her family history. In recent years, she has focused on a close examination of her family’s migration and their connections to Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley and Black Strathcona, the “All-Black” towns of Oklahoma, the Exoduster migration and the Ku Klux Klan.

Bowen has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Scotiabank Photography Award (2021), a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and the William H. Johnson Prize (2014). Previous exhibitions include The God of Gods: Berlin, Berlin (2020) and God of Gods: A Canadian Play (2019). Her writing, interviews and art have been featured in Canadian ArtThe Capilano ReviewThe Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology and Transition Magazine. She was also editor of the 2019 anthology Other Places: Reflections on Media Arts in Canada.

Click here to learn more about Black Drones in the Hive

About the Exhibition

Comprised of approximately one hundred objects including framed images, audio, and video elements. The combination of archives, historical publications, and wartime propaganda presented in Black Drones in the Hive weaves together narratives of labour, migration, dispossession and militarization. Through this sprawling exhibition, Bowen illuminates what is often overlooked—connecting history with contemporary conversations on race, colonization, and cultural monuments.  

For more than twenty years, Deanna Bowen’s practice has evolved from its roots in experimental documentary video into a complex mapping of power as seen in public and private archives. Research and exhibitions are rarely mutually exclusive modes for Bowen, in part because her subjects are capable of revealing new perspectives over time. Whether it is through strategies of re-enactment or dense constellations of archival material, Bowen’s work traces her familial history within a broader narrative of Black survival in Canada and the United States.

Originally produced by the Kitchener-Waterloo Art GalleryBlack Drones in the Hive unfolds in a series of visual chapters to reveal the strategic erasures which have enabled Canadian canons (such as the Group of Seven) to exist without question or complication. The exhibition draws its title from a racist assessment of William Robinson, a Black journeyman, as written by a city official in Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener) in the records of the Waterloo County House of Industry and Refuge (1869–1950). This sentiment echoes the centuries-long project of devaluing Black labour and the promise of autonomy. Combing historical texts, petitions, and archives ranging from the local to international, Bowen weaves together narrative threads of migration, power networks, and hierarchies of remembrance.