This April, Hart House’s Talking Walls will feature the evocative work of Darkroom Artist-in-Residence Dainesha Nugent-Palache. This solo show, by a visual artist who is rapidly gaining international recognition, captures how her residency inspired a new kind of experimentation.

Mark your calendars. Opening on April 4 and running for the month, Hart House will showcase new photography of Dainesha Nugent-Palache. All the pieces in the show were developed as part of the Hart House Darkroom Artist-in-Residence program (September 2023 to April 2024). The artist also hosted a workshop, on March 26, and a special talk at the opening.

Dainesha Nugent-Palache. Photo credit: Sunny Kooner.

Dainesha earned a BFA from the OCAD University (2016). Her work has been exhibited across Canada, including major venues such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Portrait Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. She has also shown in New York, Finland and Vienna.

A self-described overthinker with a copious imagination, Dainesha brushes off her meteoric rise on the world stage as “lucky.” But spend five minutes chatting with her and you will begin to realize the introspective and creative depth of this young visual artist.

Hart House is thrilled to have Dainesha as an Artist-in-Residence. “She contributed significantly to the Hart House Camera Club beyond the Residency. She participated in Critical Salons and juried the annual exhibition,” said Saša Rajšić, coordinator, Integrated Arts Education, adding, “She has been a joy to work with, contributing to the community, helping us improve our darkroom facilities, all while developing her own work.” 

Interest in Photography Took Root Early

Dainesha’s passion for photography began in childhood. “My dad gave me my first camera, his 35-millimetre camera. I brought it with me everywhere, then I saved up for my first DSLR [digital single-lens reflex camera] in high school,” she explains.

As a teen, she started going to indie punk and hardcore shows. “I would take photographs there and at parties. I became the unofficial photographer of my group of friends.”

She was always drawn to fashion. “I would play around with editorial fashion photos and stage shoots sometimes – in my basement, our garage or parking lots … just playing around with my friends.”

At a pivotal point in her education, Dainesha was encouraged by a mentor to think of her work as more fine art than fashion – an idea that was not well received and, in truth, only encouraged her toward fashion and finding an aesthetic space that encompassed both realms. “The editorial images I was engaging with could stand and exist beside a piece of art,” she explains. “I still pull from that; I still use the visual languages of consumerism and capitalism.”

Seeking to Produce Intuitively

Dainesha’s inspiration begins when she’s in a deep state of making. “During this time, I try not to engage with other arts or external influences. I want my work to come from within; I want to produce intuitively.” Interestingly, she gets many ideas while falling asleep. 

Dainesha’s black-and-white images created at Hart House. Photo credit: Sunny Kooner.

For her, the creative process starts with a strong imagination. “Sometimes the language that somebody uses conjures a visual thing that I need to channel into something productive.” Other inspirations include objects’ colour, shape, historical context or “just living life, the contemporary experience, and ruminating on that,” she says, adding, “I sit with ideas, with objects, for a long time.”

Colonial figurines, often collected by people from the Caribbean, are sometimes featured in Dainesha’s photographs. Inspired by her mother’s collection, she has been interested in these figurines for years. (Seeking to understand the motivation behind the collections, she was a little disappointed when her mother summed up: “[The figurines are] just something you get when you have a little money.”)

Dainesha in the Camera Club’s dark room. Photo credit: Sunny Kooner.

Artwork Reckons with Erasure and “touches all ends of time”

Dainesha’s art is rich with intention and content. “I create to exist in posterity. A large part of my practice, particularly at the beginning, was trying to combat erasure. This is in response to seeing that people with other identities – racialized or queer people – were often hidden. Histories have been erased. I didn't want that to continue.”

Although rooted in the past, her work is forward thinking. “With some of my portraits, I'm attempting to bring these people into the future. I’m also putting them in garments that are vintage or have some sort of significance to the present. That’s my way of having them touch all ends of time.”

Like all truly great artists, she invites viewers into her artwork even if the subject matter is dark and welcomes others’ interpretation even if this is contrary to her intentions.

Residency Pushes Experimentation into Chance and Variability

Dainesha has enjoyed the two-semester residency at Hart House where she has had access to the dark room. “The residency has been really dreamy,” she says. “It pushed me toward new ideas.”

She began to experiment with chance and variability using external light sources as well as water, soil and natural elements. She underscores the importance of this experimentation: “You get to a point in your practice where you have created a template, and you just fall back into it. I needed to remind myself that play is an option. I don't necessarily need to know the outcome. It's exciting. Experimentation leads you to new ways of working and reinvigorates your practice.”

Enjoys Mentoring Students

Dainesha enjoys working with and guiding undergrads. “There are a few students who also love fashion photography and they're worried that their images might ‘read’ in that way. I'm encouraging them to ignore any voices who try to [pigeonhole] them.”

Dainesha has enjoyed her time at Hart House. Photo credit: Sunny Kooner.

She also encourages students not to think about their work as an assignment. “Instead, consider it an extension of your future work. That's how you become a good artist.” As well, she firmly believes students should start showing their work prior to graduation.  

She also encourages students not to think about their work as an assignment. “Instead, consider it an extension of your future work. That's how you become a good artist.” As well, she firmly believes students should start to immerse themselves into art communities, begin showing their work prior to graduation or show their artwork to people outside of their institution. “Having your work and name before more established professionals and peers provides an advantage.”

Encourages Students to Discover Hart House

Dainesha has enjoyed learning about Hart House. “It is a great institution. I hope U of T students take advantage of it. I didn't know how much was offered – even the external locations like the Hart House farm! Before my residency ends, I need to go there!”

Check out this video with the artist. To learn more about the Talking Walls exhibit, visit the event page or see the artist’s website to learn more about her.