BONAFIDE collective redefines fine art for the Gen Z generation

The Green Line team met with BONAFIDE in Little Portugal to learn how its immersive art activations are challenging the status quo.

By Julia Lawrence, Mahdis Habibinia, and Anita Li of The Green Line

Emerging artists don’t often get their start in major galleries, but rather through grassroots collectives in unassuming parts of our city.

BONAFIDE, a new local arts collective is pushing the definition of fine art forward and is challenging the status quo along the way.

The Gen Z-led collective, co-founders Halle Hirota, Sarah Ruest, Jahliya Daley, and Erika Lindberg aim to highlight the network of emerging artists across a variety of mediums and industries with a focus on underappreciated and underrecognized art forms through its events.

They debuted Organized Chaos in Little Portugal, the first in a series of immersive activations to exhibit a range of underrepresented artistic mediums like pole performances, tattoo artists and skateboard designers.

“We wanted to create a space that was just completely like uncensored art for you to just come and experience it live,” explained Hirota. “I think that more of our performance art, especially we had a pole dancing show, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a traditional gallery.”

Hirota said they are working to redefine what art forms are considered fine art.

“Now especially, we have an opportunity where we’re able to redefine that for ourselves and start a space of our own that we can be like, yeah, pole dance is fine art. This provocative performance art is fine art. Nudity is fine art. Interactive installation and light is fine art,” she added.

As BONAFIDE redefines what art is and what it can be, Ruest said they want artists to be included in the process.

“Give the freedom to create what they want to instead of what they have to create [to pay bills],” they say. “Instead of an art gallery being for one artist, it’s for everyone. Everyone can work together, grow together, collaborate and learn from each other.”

Every generation of artists breaks the rules and brings forth a new era of creativity. Performance artist Johanna Householder did exactly that for her generation.

She co-founded the 7A*11D International Festival of Performance Art, the oldest festival of its kind in English Canada.

“When I began as a performance artist in the seventies, no one predicted that performance would still be alive and well. In fact, its death was predicted many times. Same with video art,” explained Householder. “At a certain point, the national gallery refused to collect video because they didn’t know how substantial it was, how it would deteriorate … It’s proved to be incredibly stable.”

A generational shift is pushing Gen Z creatives like Joy Kahlil, professionally known as Joy, into Toronto’s mainstream art scene.

The result is more digital and interactive art that is a mainstay for younger artists who grew up with the mediums.

Joy said this is the first time this kind of art has been broadly embraced and legitimized by local galleries.

“It’s a new phenomenon, and people are appreciating different expressions and different voices. We’ve been hearing the same stories for so long, and people are starting to get bored. Everything is starting to get predictable.”

Joy shared that with new and digital media, adding a “bizarre element” into expression makes everyone think, which is something art is supposed to do.

“Art is supposed to make us question reality. Question what surrounds us, question our experience and reflect. And I feel like that hasn’t happened in the last bit in terms of the evolution of artistic practices,” said Joy. “I feel like it’s the new method of expression, and people are open to it because they’re more comfortable with digital media.”

BONAFIDE’s founders say collaboration and mutual support form the foundation of their group and they want to create more paid opportunities for themselves and other emerging artists.

Householder said grassroots collectives like BONAFIDE help launch the careers of newer or lesser-known artists.

“I think as an artist here in Toronto, you have to or anywhere you have to really have your network and support system. Small collectives have always been the driving force of the arts in Canada and everywhere,” shared Householder. “So, I would say to all the young artists out there, rely on your friends, make your own network.”

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