The centre is showcasing the work of African-born artists for Black History Month
It can be easy to forget how important community is — especially in times of duress. But one of the many things the pandemic has shown is that we all need support in some way. The Issamba Centre, an art and cultural centre for the African diaspora, provides one source of that essential connection for the Black community here in Victoria.
The Issamba Centre was officially founded by Pulchérie Mboussi in June of 2020 and is a part of the African Art & Cultural Community Contributor Society (AACCCS). It began as the Issamba Show in 2015. African-born musical artists were brought to perform in Victoria and both well-known and up-and-coming artists would perform together. The Issamba Show was a way to highlight the mosaic culture of Black Canadians, both during Black History Month and throughout the year.
The original Issamba Show was ready and planned for Black History Month in 2021, but things had to change, and change quickly. That’s when Mboussi noticed something.
“When the government was starting to release money to support communities, […] we realized that the Black communities here in B.C. […] don’t really have a space,” Mboussi said. “We don’t have a space, physical or virtual, where we can merge our ideas, where we can know where our people are.”
On top of the La Teranga program, the Issamba Centre is still organizing performances. For Black History Month, the centre is hosting a virtual festival. Every Saturday throughout February, African-born artists’ shows are hosted on the Issamba Centre’s Facebook page, with shorter mini-shows throughout the week. One such mini-show is a conversation with Fort Saskatchewan City Councillor Jibs Abitoye on Feb. 25.
Mboussi founded both the AACCCS and the Issamba Centre to share and maintain her connection to her family’s cultural history, while also maintaining that culture with her family.
The Black community in Canada isn’t a monolith, but a mosaic of dozens of different cultures. Many Black people in Canada may not feel connected to African or Caribbean cultures, says Mboussi. As an example, Victoria only has one African store, the Island Afrikan Supermarket. It had to close during the pandemic.
“A majority of Black Canadians are from the diaspora now,” Mboussi said. “So it’s important to know where we are from, people who made history, people who made it easier for us to be here, but it’s also important to know, we are here.”
With some grant money from the Red Cross, Mboussi rented a space for the Issamba Centre where people could come to in order to get some much needed support during the pandemic, a place to store those essential supplies, and a place to connect with each other.
The food basket program, La Teranga, which translates to hospitality, provides the Black community in Victoria with culturally relevant foods.
“You know, when you are confined, [when] you are dealing with isolation, you want to feel good, and we know when you are at your house, you have time to make good food and food you love,” said Mboussi. Since its establishment on Aug. 15, La Teranga has distributed 1 300 baskets to around 700 individuals.
“When you talk to Black, African descent communities and when you go online, you see a lot of people. They talk a lot about reconnecting with their roots […] They’re always trying to connect with that. So, like myself, I have a direct connection with my roots. I don’t want my descendants in 100 years to be searching for their roots as well. I want to give something, I want them to have that connection with their roots and know everything.”
Connecting to community is at the core of what the Issamba Centre does. After all, Issamba translates to “come together.”