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Artist Amartey Golding builds extraordinary wearables and uses them in videos to create mythic stories of violence and healing drawing on his Anglo-Scottish, Ghanaian and Jamaican roots.Henry Chan Jr./The Power Plant

Things seem to have settled down at the Power Plant, after the tumult of last fall when the board resigned en masse to protest intervention from Harbourfront Centre only days after the departure of long-time director Gaëtane Verna. The interim board appointed by Harbourfront remains in place, a new board chair will be recruited by the spring with permanent board members to follow in the summer, and arts consultant Carolyn Vesely, former executive director of the Ontario Arts Council, has stepped in as interim director of the art gallery.

Harbourfront says it is focusing on good governance; the previous board saw a naked power grab. It’s too early to say whether the cultural community’s fears – that Harbourfront was meddling and that the quality of the programming would inevitably suffer – are justified. Verna, who now runs the prestigious Wexner Centre at Ohio State University, had built an enviable reputation for the gallery as a contemporary art accelerator with global connections, but it will be up to a new director, who will only be appointed once the new board is in place, to shape the next years.

So, let’s call it coincidence that the current crop of shows does not live up to preceding efforts – and that is not a reflection on the two principle artists involved. Brenda Draney is an Edmonton artist who creates provocative renditions of quotidian or domestic moments on sparsely painted canvases. Amartey Golding is a British artist who builds extraordinary wearables and uses them in videos to create mythic stories of violence and healing drawing on his Anglo-Scottish, Ghanaian and Jamaican roots. Both make persuasive art that is dramatically installed in the Power Plant’s generous ground-floor galleries.

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Brenda Draney is an artist who creates provocative renditions of quotidian or domestic moments on sparsely painted canvases.Henry Chan Jr./The Power Plant

What’s missing is that these two shows aren’t talking to each other, and that is new: One of the great strengths of Power Plant programming under Verna was the way it staged dialogues between international and Canadian artists with pairings as sensitive as the wine and food combinations in a four-star restaurant.

This time around, Draney’s art – private, intimate and concerned with painting, seeing and remembering – has little to say to Golding’s larger exercise in post-colonial mythmaking. And vice versa. Upstairs, a small show of contemporary Toronto artists working in installation, photography and video, and addressing issues of place and land, does fit with Golding’s project, but his remarkable constructions do rather overshadow the paler use of textiles and more emphatic politics in the group show.

Still, viewed solo, the two principle players have lots to offer.

On big canvases, many of them newly commissioned for this show, Draney captures moments of daily life, often with a sense of unease, threat or discomfort. A couple cuddle on a couch during a party in a basement rec room; a man vomits into a toilet; a young child stands at the bedside of her naked parents; a cluttered bed and draped chair sit in an empty room, hinting at old age or death.

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Draney stands in front of her work.Henry Chan Jr./The Power Plant

Her raw painting style leaves out sections of her scenes, as though the figures had been cut out of their backgrounds. You can see how she developed it by comparing two sleeping figures, one from 2008 and another from 2021. The first, an intimate little painting that might cheerfully hang in some corner of a house, shows the figure in a room lying on a low couch surrounded by other furniture and a tile floor. The second, much larger, far more demanding, has stripped all that pleasant background away.

In the didactic panel, curator Jacqueline Kok speaks of how these paintings echo the way memory is shaped in the flux of life. One of things she doesn’t mention, however, is that most of us shape memories through photography and Draney, clearly using photographs as source material, subtly recognizes that, reflecting how our eye is accustomed to the editing and staging of the camera. There are obvious references here: Self Portrait shows a little girl, clearly taken from an old photograph; Teenager is an image of a young woman smoking captured in the dark at the moment she closed her eyes; Accord, a picture of the front of a car, is cropped like a photo.

Draney is Indigenous, from the Sawridge First Nation in northern Alberta, and there are lots of potential political statements here including several scenes of tent encampments and a large canvas showing a woman slouching on a floral couch with two police officers hovering at the doorway, a menacing image of the state intruding into the domestic sphere.

And yet, Draney is also an old-fashioned artist, her painting style reminiscent of the expressionism of the 1980s during that period when figurative painting first re-emerged from the shadow of installation and video art. And her principle theme – which is why she is drawing attention – is one of visual art’s most venerable: how we see. Refreshingly, she is not asking you to judge these scenes and situations, but to look at them.

Golding, on the other hand, is an artist much more obviously plugged in to the post-colonial moment, but approaches his themes in ways so original and idiosyncratic he’s difficult to categorize. The child of a Scottish-English mother, Ghanaian father and Jamaican stepfather, he was raised Rastafarian in Britain, and now lives Norwich. In creating a mythological art that reflects that métissage, he starts by building outlandish garments, and then incorporating them into storytelling videos.

The Toronto installation – highly evocative, installed by curator Joséphine Denis and the Power Plant team in a darkened space with dramatic red walls and focused spot lights – begins with an oversized screen showing the videos and then lets you step behind that to see the garments themselves, as well as photography on similar themes.

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Golding's Chainmail Garment 3, 2018, is used in a video installation.Henry Chan Jr./The Power Plant

One is a massive coat of chain mail: How even the most burly person could support it on their shoulders is a mystery. It is at the core of the Chainmail 3 video, showing one man wearing the suit of armour and then taking it off – it leaves imprints on his skin, suggesting scarification or even the lash – to join another man by a healing fire.

The second garment is a full body suit of woven hair using designs inspired by African braiding and the body art of ancient Britons. This bizarre creation, part beast, part wig, part wings, is used in Bring Me to Heal, a video in which an angelic figure wanders through the empty galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, gradually noticing the violence of the scenes of Christian martyrdom hanging there.

A second chapter of Bring Me to Heal shows Black hikers gathering around a fire in the woods to tell a story about a horse that won’t stop galloping around the world, trampling smaller creatures as it goes, convinced that those who don’t run get run over. Golding situates his art in an ancient and violent past, both African and Anglo, but pushes his stories towards a present where all might be resolved.

There’s a pervasive belief these days that art can fix things. Golding is one of those rare practitioners who makes you think that might possibly be true.

Brenda Draney and Amartey Golding are showing at the Power Plant gallery in Toronto to May 14.