The Performance of Shadows

Erika DeFreitas, Betye Saar, and Tim Whiten

Curated by Lillian O’Brien Davis

School of Art Gallery, Main Gallery

February 16 to April 29, 2023

Reception: Thursday, February 16 2022, 5:00-8:00 pm

Visual description of artworks available. Video is closed-captioned.

The Performance of Shadows explores intuition as a condition of consciousness. This exhibition considers the expansiveness of three artists’ understanding of existence through various approaches to concepts of phenomenology, spirituality and political engagement.

Betye Saar’s assemblage work, which was increasingly influenced by her rising political consciousness beginning in the 1960s, consists of objects carrying their own history and meaning and are selected for their “ancestral, ritual, autobiographical, nostalgic and historical” aura. In Saar’s work, time is cyclical, linking the artist and viewers of her work with generations of people who came before them. Saar uses assemblage and found materials that link history and experiences— emotion and knowledge travel across time and back again.

Tim Whiten bridges material and spiritual experience that encourages “sensing” over “reading”. Whiten investigates consciousness and its role in the meaning constituting process. Whiten’s practice is informed by a deep generosity, connecting to others through the experience of his work.

Erika DeFreitas’ practice emphasizes process, the body and paranormal phenomena, using primarily lens-based media focused on feelings of love and loss. DeFreitas explores the miraculous as a way of considering that which is beyond our comprehension by bearing witness to testimonies of visions of the Virgin Mary. The divine feminine is a consistent presence in DeFreitas’ work, a connective energy passing through space and time.

Process is key to the works in the exhibition; all three artists embrace various manifestations of intuitive intelligence, working to connect with what lies beyond our immediate experience of reality. Objects and materiality function as transmitters for memory, experience, and consciousness. Meaning and significance cannot be fully experienced through objectivity alone – the artists in The Performance of Shadows nurture intuitive practices that expand our perception of the world.

In Dialogue

Spirit Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar, 1977, film. Image courtesy of Susan Bauman Films.

Suzanne Bauman: Spirit Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar

Lobby Gallery

Video is closed-captioned.

Produced by WNET (New York Public Media) and directed by award-winning filmmaker Suzanne Bauman, this 1977 documentary addresses Saar’s fascination with the mystical and the unknown, which merge with her social concerns as an African American woman.

Suzanne Bauman (1945-2022) was a producer, director, and writer of more than 80 documentary and drama films. Bauman earned a VA from Vassar College and an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Film School, and taught documentary filmmaking at UCLA. Bauman’s work took her across the globe and reflected her broad interests: her documentary work addressed geopolitical, social, and environmental issues, the histories of global empires, cultural epochs, artistic movements, and the written word, and biographies of world leaders, artists, and other public figures past and present.  Bauman also directed theatre productions, independent films, and short films for children. Her work has screened at film festivals internationally and received numerous accolades, include a CINE Golden Eagle Award for Spirit Catcher, an Academy Award Nomination for Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey (1981), and an Academy Award of Special Merit for La Belle Époque (1983).

Public Programming

Critique Session

Tough love with guest critic Lillian O’Brien Davis

Thursday, February 9, 6:30-9:30 pm, MAWA, 611 Main Street

Feel like you are working in a vacuum or without community context? Join other artists and special guest Lillian O’Brien Davis for a 3-hour discussion at which artists receive focused constructive critique. If you want to sign up for a critique, email Adriana at [email protected]. Everyone, of all genders, are welcome to attend and participate in the dialogue, whether you are sharing work or not. Tough Love critiques are open to all MAWA members. Not yet a member? MAWA membership costs just $30 for regular membership and $15 for students or the underemployed. Visit for details.

Presented in partnership with MAWA – Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art


Spirit Catcher

Monday, February 13, 7:00-9:00 pm, 364 ARTlab, 180 Dafoe Road

Film is closed-captioned.

Join us to watch Suzanne Bauman’s award-winning 1977 documentary short, Spirit Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar. Viewing will be followed by a “show and tell” workshop exploring the intuitive processes Saar uses to create her evocative works.

Spirit Catcher explores how artist Betye Saar weaves found items such as family photographs, bones, letters, and ephemera into mystical icons that protect and awaken spiritual energies. By linking objects from her diverse Indigenous, Caribbean, Indian, African, and European ancestries to the present, she builds a line of communication from the present to the past. This “reaching back” merges with her social concerns as a Black American to offer power and protection to those who need it most.

Following the film, Indigenous Art Education Coordinator Justin Bear will be hosting a circle in which you’re invited to bring an item that “sings to you” and to share a bit about it. How did it come into your life? Why can’t you get rid of it? What does it mean to you? This item could be a family heirloom, something you kept but you’re not sure why, an object with mystical or magical significance, or just the first thing you grab on your way out the door. After sharing, we will create a Spirit Catcher altar using the objects. Altars will be photographed on Polaroids for you to take home.

It may not be possible to convey to someone else that mysterious, transforming gift by which dreams, memory, and experience become art… but I like to think I try.

Betye Saar


Curator Lillian O’Brien Davis on The Performance of the Shadows

Thursday, February 16, 12:00-1:30 pm, 368 ARTlab, 180 Dafoe Road

Also facilitated on Zoom and live-streaming on the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba YouTube channel. ASL interpretation and closed-captioning available on Zoom.

Lillian O’Brien Davis will discuss her current exhibition, The Performance of Shadows within the broader context of her curatorial practice and research. A Q&A will follow this presentation.


compositions on a colourless blue

Tuesday, March 14, 10:30-12:30, 1JustCity, 365 McGee Street

ASL interpretation available upon request
(please contact [email protected] by February 28 if required)

Learn the basics of conceptual art with Erika DeFreitas at 1JustCity’s drop-in program. Using prompts from her work, compositions on a colourless blue, participants are invited to use sculpture, drawings, the body, sound, and the written word to respond to the scores. They will then learn to document their work with photography, film, or audio to be exhibited online in conjunction with the Performance of Shadows exhibition.

The workshop is open to everyone, with a focus on inner city and senior participants.

Presented in partnership with 1JustCity.


Erika Defreitas and Lillian O’Brien Davis in conversation

Thursday, February 16, 12:00-1:30 pm, 368 ARTlab, 180 Dafoe Road

Also facilitated on Zoom and live-streaming on the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba YouTube channel. ASL interpretation and closed-captioning available on Zoom.

Join us for a conversation between The Performance of Shadows curator Lillian O’Brien Davis and artist Erika DeFreitas, focusing on their shared research and interests, which include artist-curator mentorship, institution, and the divine feminine. A Q&A will follow this presentation.

To attend virtually please register for the link.

Artist Bios

scores on a colourless blue no. 29 (after Ultramarine Blue), 2021/2023, inkjet print on Hahnemühle. Image courtesy of the artist.

Erika DeFreitas’s multidisciplinary practice includes performance, photography, video, installation, textiles, drawing and writing. Placing emphasis on gesture, process, the body, documentation and paranormal phenomena, DeFreitas mines concepts of loss, post-memory, legacy and objecthood. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including: Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery; Platform Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts, Winnipeg; Gallery TPW, Toronto; Project Row Houses and the Museum of African American Culture, Houston; Fort Worth Contemporary Arts; and Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita. She is a recipient of the 2016 Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Finalist Artist Prize, the 2016 John Hartman Award, and was longlisted for the 2017 Sobey Art Award. DeFreitas holds a Master of Visual Studies from the University of Toronto.

Cryptic Confessions: The Answer, 1988, assemblage (mixed media). Collection of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University. Photo: Courtesy of the lender.

For over six decades, Betye Saar has created assemblage works that explore the social, political, and economic underpinnings of America’s collective memory. She began her career at the age of 35 producing work that dealt with mysticism, nature and family. Saar’s art became political in the 1970’s namely with the assemblage The Liberation of Aunt Jemima in 1972. As did many of the women who came to consciousness in the 1960’s, Saar takes on the feminist mantra “the personal is political” as a fundamental principle in her assemblage works. Her appropriation of Black collectibles, heirlooms, and utilitarian objects are transformed through subversion, and yet given her status as a pioneer of the Assemblage movement, the impact of Saar’s oeuvre on contemporary art has yet to be fully acknowledged or critically assessed. Among the older generation of Black American artists, Saar is without reproach and continues to both actively produce work and inspire countless others.

Hallelujah I, 2014, lilac branches, umbrella handle. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

In over forty years of creating cultural objects, Tim Whiten has sought to navigate the territory of the human condition with the intent of inviting experiences and encouraging “sensing” over “reading”. Whiten’s work extends from two- to three-dimensional forms and includes ritual performances, real-time systems, site-specific and mixed media installations. His work is held in numerous private, corporate, and public collections, such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Windsor, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the Mackenzie Art Gallery, and the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (both the de Young and the Legion of Honor).