The site-specific installation, by Toronto-based photo-video artist Ella Cooper, features a self-portrait series, presenting faces of grief and sorrow through the lens of a mixed race artist of Jewish heritage.

Type of Exhibition: Art

ella cooper
Detail from the forthcoming FENTSTER installation, Witness, from the series Self-Portrait by Ella Cooper.

SIDEWALK SOIREE | TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13 | Get close to the art while remaining physically distant. Swing by and meet the artist from the sidewalk. Sign up for a limited time slot, here.

FENTSTER debuts never before exhibited work by Toronto-based photo-video artist Ella Cooper who uses movement and performance-based techniques in her work to explore identity and reclaim representations of Black bodies. The site-specific installation features a self-portrait series, presenting faces of grief and sorrow through the lens of a mixed race artist of Jewish heritage. The visceral and captivating photographs were created by Cooper’s performance of her inner emotional state, drawing on techniques of Butoh—a Japanese dance practice that she studied during an artist residency in Berlin. There she sought an embodied way to explore the feelings of loss, isolation and displacement evoked by being in a city marked by devastation and Jewish absence. Berlin stirred her formative experiences growing up in Montreal’s Jewish community, being raised within Jewish tradition while feeling outside it.

To make these images, the artist stepped out from the tumult of the city into the intimacy of one of the many outdoor photobooths across Berlin. The work – vulnerable and revealing – takes on additional layers of meaning presented in the highly public space of the FENTSTER window and amidst the ongoing pandemic when many of us have passed months in seclusion, forced to face ourselves in unprecedented ways amidst a climate of racial unrest and heightened social inequalities. Refusing to be contained, a world of emotion comes to the surface in these photographs – reverberating with philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas’ assertion that, in its particularity and infinity, the human face “demands justice.”


ELLA COOPER is an award-winning cultural leader, producer, facilitator, photo-video artist, educator and programmer based in Toronto. She has worked in the arts and culture sector for almost 20 years. Her creative work explores the diaspora, the creation of positive representations of the Black body in Canada, equity and arts for social change, community storytelling, contemporary dance and hybrid identity. Cooper is also the founder of Black Women Film! Canada, a collective and leadership initiative supporting the development of Black women filmmakers. She designs and facilitates transformative leadership, anti-oppression and arts empowerment programs for diverse communities, youth and non-profit organizations across Canada, the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and South Africa. Cooper holds a Masters of Education and has served as part time faculty at University of Toronto Scarborough. In addition, she continues to be a featured speaker and guest facilitator for national and international conferences. In 2019, Cooper was nominated for a Mayor’s Arts Cultural Leadership Award, and in 2017 was a Fellow in the Toronto Arts Council’s Leaders Lab. Cooper’s work has been presented in galleries, public spaces and festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Berlin.

FENTSTER gratefully acknowledges Smokestack Studio for generously printing the photographs in the exhibition.

Presented by:

A Kultura Collective Member

Start Date:

September 25, 2020

End Date:

January 21, 2021

Visit FENTSTER @ Makom day & night

Downtown Toronto

402 College Street
Toronto, Ontario, M5T 1S8


If accessibility options not listed, please contact the venue to confirm


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