a Member

Héritier Bilaka

June 27, 2023 - July 21, 2023

Marked by the social problems in my country of origin, and by my own questioning on the disappearance of several historical traces of my cultural identity, I explore the material and spiritual dimensions of the human condition in relation to the environment through the representation of human bodies as symbols of rapprochement with human origins from a figurative perspective. Painting is a way for me to leave traces of identity colours in history. My intention to paint characters in black and white in a multi-coloured environment seeks to minimize racial connotations to put forward only the characters’ humanity and to connect past and present.

For some time, I have been representing the heads of my characters with black silhouettes that erase faces, a way for me to speak to the individualism of contemporary societies. My work questions the human condition in a contemporary context while pointing back to history. The idea is to create a mirror effect between audience and environment to spark conversations based on interpretations and experiences. My practice has been influenced by artists such as Shane Wolf, Aeron Douglas, Saidu Keita, Gustave Courbet, and Caravaggio.

The 2019 exhibition titled Le modèle noir de Géricault à Matisse at the Musée d’Orsay and the 2022 book Colonisation & propagande : le pouvoir de l'image were sources of motivation for my project. In fact, the body of Afrodescendant men and women has long been subjected to stereotypes, to fantasies of all kinds. For my residency project, I propose reappropriating this politics of representation by using photographic images of nude women and men published during the colonial period in central Africa by producing a large-format painting. These archival images have been provided by the Musée royal d’Afrique centrale in Belgium, with which I have signed an agreement as part of my research.

It is a way for me to give voice to the memory of my ancestors and their ideas on the symbolism of the body. I intend to invite the public to travel into history through these images and into the present through my painting, to generate conversations and reflections on the political and cultural implications of these images, and thus to question audience members’ own relationship to the body in a contemporary context.

Artist Bio

Héritier Bilaka is a visual artist based in Ottawa. He obtained an undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Ottawa in 2023, winning two prizes. Héritier has also participated in many physical and online group exhibitions in various cities, such as Toronto, Ottawa, London (UK), Cannes, and New York. Some of his works appear in the collection of the Maron’Ages gallery in Lyon, France, and in private collections in Ancona, Italy and in Australia. He received an Ontario Arts Council research and creation grant in 2022.

Studio Schedule

Monday - Wednesday: 10 AM - 5 PM 

Thursday: 12 PM - 7 PM 

The artist will be in the studio on July 12 until 7:30 PM for the Gallery Hop.  

The Artist-in-Residence program is supported by the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation.