February is African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia, and Black History Month across Canada. In celebration, NSCAD University will feature profiles of Black alumni who will reflect on their careers, and their time at NSCAD. Throughout the month we will feature alumni at various stages in their careers, all with unique and fascinating stories to tell.
Our next alumni profile is Letitia Fraser, an interdisciplinary artist with a focus in painting and textile, and a recent winner of the RBC Emerging Artist Award for visual arts from the Nova Scotia Talent Trust. Born and raised in Halifax, NS, Letitia is also a proud descendant of North Preston. She graduated from NSCAD in 2019 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Letitia’s work centres around her experience as an African Nova Scotian woman growing up in the province’s Black communities.
Why did you choose NSCAD?
When I was younger I was surrounded by artists. My first exposure was my mother’s crafts. She always had craft supplies around. Pipe cleaners, puff balls, googly eyes, etc. She would feed the part of me that very much craved to be creative. I watched her draw and wished that I could draw just like her. My eldest uncle, Alexander Fraser, was a painter and inspired my mother greatly. He attended NSCAD for a year, and then left to provide for his growing family. The thought of applying to NSCAD frightened me, but I felt as a Black artist, it was important to follow my dreams. I wanted to attend NSCAD University here at home, to attend an art school outside of the province wouldn’t have felt right.
What is your fondest memory from your time at NSCAD?
My fondest memories would probably have been my foundation year. During that year, you have the opportunity to try other courses. It was very freeing. Much was expected of you, but you could explore different mediums that were outside of your experience and comfort zone, and fail without stressed attached. I rediscovered my love for ceramics and discovered my love for film during that year.
How did NSCAD help prepare you for your career?
Barbara Lounder’s Professional Practice class is something I constantly refer back to. Out of all the classes, that was probably the one I felt prepared me the most for my career as an artist. We discuss websites, curriculum vitaes, grant writing etc. … It didn’t feel long enough, to be honest, and I wished there were more classes like it.
Describe the importance of African Heritage Month for Black artists?
Black art is important all year round, but It was important for me to have my grad show, Mommay’s Patches: Traditions and Superstitions at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in 2019, during African Heritage Month, because I felt it was a necessity to have as many African Nova Scotians see themselves in a positive light as possible. It’s about celebrating us in a world where we are still portrayed in an unflattering light.
You are in the early stages of your career, but you’ve already achieved great success. What lessons did you learn throughout your life, and career, to help you get here?
Being of service is a lesson I’ve learned. When I first started drawing I just wanted to draw things that looked pretty, I still do, but I felt as an artist in any form, you have a responsibility. I looked where I felt a spotlight needed to be shone and started there. When I thought of Nova Scotia, I thought of home and its many Black communities. The images outsiders are given, are that of lighthouses and lobster. I felt it was needed for us to be seen.
How does your identity inform your work?
My work is greatly informed by my identity. From its very direct connection to my family to moments that only the Black community can connect with. As mentioned before, I felt that work that is based on the African Nova Scotian experience was extremely important to make. Everyone should see themselves reflected in art.
Discussions like these are important, where would you like to see improvements in arts education and the arts community in general?
Art education wise, I was very fortunate to have Sara Hartland Rowe in Intermediate Painting. She showed me how to properly mix browner skin tones and exposed me to Black artists and spoke to me. Other Black students weren’t as fortunate.
Having more visiting artists of colour as well as more art history courses dedicated to places other than Europe would be extremely beneficial. The only time I saw myself represented in Art History was when there was a section on what it means when a Black female figure is painted next to a white female figure. As important as slavery and Sara Baartman’s story is and needs to be heard, our story didn’t start with slavery and wasn’t always about pain. Having more art programs around multicultural communities or places where kids wouldn’t normally be exposed to fine art is also a place where I see a need as well.
Who are the artists that you most admire? What type of influence do they have on your work?
My biggest influences are Kadir Nelson, Kehinde Wiley, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Harmonia Rosales and Raelis Vasquez. All of these artists work with black and brown figures, they also in some way make a connection with their culture, their roots or try and change the way you see black and brown bodies.
Learn more about Letitia Fraser and her work at: