Starting today and running through until Monday July 3rd Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, a leader in diverse programming that speaks to our times, is hosting Our Home on Native Land Festival. Indigenous artists will be performing all weekend long. Some of the featured artists include:
On the occasion of Canada Day, Our Home On Native Land aims to spark questions, conversations, and ultimately a rethinking of “what it means to be Canadian” by foregrounding, celebrating, and making space for the diverse voices and stories of belonging to this land that are often excluded from typical ideas and expressions of Canadianness.
By focusing on narratives of creative resistance, intersectional solidarity, social justice, and decolonization, Our Home On Native Land reveals the connective threads that exist between Indigenous and diverse, newcomer communities in their creative contributions to the artistic and cultural fabric of Canada, or Kanata.
This festival takes its title from a well-known act of resistance committed by Indigenous peoples across Canada, whereby they intentionally change the line “Our Home and Native Land” to “Our Home On Native Land” to re-ascribe Indigenous sovereignty over the lands now known as Canada.
Image: Oo Aqpik “Crown for Sedna” 2016. Provided by Studio Sixty Six.
Countering celebrations of nationalism with alternate narratives.
Graduating just last year from Carleton University with a Masters in Art History, Rose Ekins has already made her mark on the Ottawa art scene with her ambitious programming at Studio Sixty Six, a commercial gallery located off of Bronson Avenue. Gallery owner Carrie Colton trusted Rose’s vision allowing her the opportunity to consider how a commercial gallery could also play a role in creating a space for art that wasn’t just about saleability but also about provoking tough questions. “I was able to carve out a mandate for myself” and that mandate includes diversity not only in the media that artists work in but more importantly cultural diversity and the stories that get communicated through the work.
In an effort to offer a counter-narrative to the stories of nationalism that will be getting lots of air time in the 2017 celebrations of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, Rose has curated KANATA 150? a show that questions what the celebrations are about and who the celebrations are for. Featuring predominantly Ottawa based artists, KANATA 150? is “a nod to the origin of the country’s name,” and “presents seven emerging Indigenous artists reflecting on the nature of “Canada 150”.”
Image: Barry Pottle “Creeping South.” Provided by Studio Sixty Six
One of these artists is Barry Pottle, whose work documenting the Urban Inuit experience has previously been featured on Mixed Bag Mag. Also, the work of fellow Inuk, artist Oo Aqpik, will be presented in this show that roots Studio Sixty Six’s 2017 provocative programming that will include emerging artists Florence Yee (Menu of Exoticism) and Kosi Nnebe (Coloured Conversations) later on in the year. Originally from Nunavut, Oo is “well known for her roles in the Inuit language programs in television, radio and recently a feature film documentary, Arctic Defenders.” Like Oo, the artists of KANATA 150 are working in the capacity of activists and ambassadors of culture. Their work is about communicating to Canadians that it is a great risk if Indigenous perspectives, on where this country is headed, are not moved to the centre of all national debates.
KANATA 150? opens tomorrow evening and promises to be an engaging way to start a critical year in Canada’s history. ARTISTS:
WHEN: Thursday, January 12 @ 6 – 9 pm WHERE: Studio Sixty Six, 202-66 Muriel Street, K1S4E1
Free – Bar & Food
Physically accessible building
This event is taking place on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation
“The City of Ottawa and Government of Canada are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Dominion of Canada with events, promotions, and other ambitious goals to increase Canadian pride and patriotism. These festivities are promoting both the history and future of the nation state confederated in 1867. Canada is a country built from settler colonialism, which leaves the question of how the Indigenous peoples of this land are meant to participate in these celebrations. KANATA 150? (January 12 – February 18), a nod to the origin of the country’s name, presents seven emerging Indigenous artists reflecting on the nature of “Canada 150”.”
Curator Alexandra Nahwegahbow presents an thematically strong and visually stunning show at the Âjagemô Art Space.
Consider the concepts of Decolonizing and Indigenizing. One feels heavy with past burdens, forward movement decelerated by arguments with ignorance. The other is charged with the quantum lightness of dreams. The time traveller moves forward swiftly and at the speed of light arrives back into the present with a renewed vision and the tools to construct an imagined future. To Indigenize is to banish colonization to a peripheral edge, advancing over the primitive mess to get on with the business of building improved systems that dramatically alter the landscape.
Moving around within time and the power this strategy provides for transformation is what foregrounds Temporal (Re)Imaginings, the current exhibit at the Âjagemô, Canada Council’s art space on Elgin Street in Ottawa. Curator Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow writes that “in Indigenous traditions, storytellers and artists frequently challenge and disrupt Western perceptions of time as a linear, progressive unfolding of events. Rather, our stories and histories exist in places where time is round, open, malleable, and can fold and fluctuate.”
The exhibit begins with Carl Beam’s impactful Burying the Ruler and sets the intention for letting go of a colonial concept of time. This exhibit also presents an imagined future. While Canada is considering what ‘reconciliation’ with the past will look like as a cultural product, many of the works in this show feel unencumbered by history
They float within the space.Clouds (Hannah Claus) hovers on a sky blue wall.
They speak of time travel.Navigating by our Grandmothers (Rosalie Favell) is set in a scenery of stars.
They alter landscapes. In Here on Future Earth Joi T. Arcand “presents snapshots of Saskatchewan towns, cities and First Nation reserves in an alternate futuristic reality where Cree is the dominant language.”
They traverse the in between space of visions finding powerful antidotes to bring back from the other side. Meryl McMaster’s Victoria “explores the artist’s bi-cultural heritage (Indigenous/European) by engaging in an extraordinary liminal reality. Rather than viewing her identity as two opposing cultures in historical conflict, she fearlessly transforms it into a site of synergistic strength.”
At a time when centres of culture tend to slot alternate narratives in with reductive simplification, as an emerging curator, Alexandra offers elegant complexity. Beyond the concepts and cosmologies embedded in the selected work the choice of the pulsating palette – hot oranges and azurite blues – plays off the predominately white space to stimulate the eye, even energize the body.
Temporal (Re)Imaginings is both potent and curative, a compelling case for a future that is (re)imagined as it is Indigenized.
Temporal (Re)Imaginings closes this weekend on Saturday, April 30. Canada Council’s Âjagemô art space is on the main floor of 150 Elgin Street. Hours of operation 7 am – 9 pm.
Below images from top to bottom: Weesahkay Jack and the Great Flood (Roy Kakegamic 2005) & clouds (Hannah Claus 2008)
Detail of clouds (Hannah Claus 2008) image by Georges Khayat, provided courtesy of artist Navigating by our Grandmothers (Rosalie Favell 2000) image courtesy of artist Other Worlds (Alex Janvier 1984), Here on Future Earth (Joi T. Arcand 2010) & Alice from the series Modern Tipi (Caroline Monnet 2008) Here on Future Earth by Joi T. Arcand (2010) Victoria (Meryl McMaster 2013) image courtesy of artist
Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow is Anishinaabe and Kanien’keha:ka, and a member of Whitefish River First Nation with roots in Kahnawake. She grew up just outside of Ottawa and is currently pursuing her PhD in Cultural Mediations in the Institute of Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture at Carleton University. She has a strong interest in stories, oral history and Indigenous art and material culture, and believes that creativity, art and processes of imagining and art-making have the ability to change the world.
Canada is known for its tradition of depicting resplendent and majestic landscapes but the inspirational legacy passed down by artists like those in the Group of Seven aren’t echoed by the contemporary artists featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s show of new acquisitions.
The vignette of Lawren Harris’ North Shore, Lake Superior, as seen from the Gallery’s water court and framed by rose granite walls, shares with us a vision of the Great White North as a pristine place. Now the more North you go the more you experience the impact of global warming. The Inuit populations located in Northern Canada are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. The situation is dire and artists in Canada have responded.
I entered the Shine A Light exhibit at a different point each time and each time I was confronted by works that overwhelmed me with a sense of dread. Artists used to celebrate this land. Now artists like Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur scatter themselves across the globe to photograph how human populations are manipulating, extracting and polluting their environments often beyond the point of no return.
Edward’s work is by far the most familiar. His command of composition is always breathtaking, even exhilarating because of the scale of the photographs. They suck you in. They are cinematic making you feel a part of the terrain. He places you at ground zero, he’s like the Weegee of the environmental crime scene and you can’t look away.
David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur are lesser known but have equally challenging content. David photographs Chernobyl and Isabelle the dead waters of America. The discombobulating viewpoint of Isabelle’s photographs drown you. David’s work brings back the ghosts of the cold war, the stuff of children’s nightmares and threats of nuclear winters. Glasnost saved us from a global moment of disaster but nuclear technology was still devastating for many Russians. His work provides a document of disaster that irradiates how our modern material culture is forever stuck in some plastic purgatory that’s going to be hard to get out of.
The content of David Hartt‘s photography in Stray Light, also about location documentation, is aesthetically more palatable, you could even say seductive. Instead of cold war ghosts you feel a guilty sense of nostalgia for that time before the OPEC crisis, a time when North Americans thought there was no real harm in living large. The video component of Stray Light takes us into the building of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) former home of Ebony Magazine. As the video transitions smoothly from room to room, accompanied by the lush music of jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, because of what I witnessed en route to David’s work I can’t shake off a sense of foreboding.
The African sculptures made of wood and stone seem confined in the plastic fantastic world of JPC. People move in and out of the scenes hedged in by office structures that conflict with the softer movements of their bodies proceeding through the space. Watching the final moments of the iconic Ebony in it’s place of conception is like entering a crypt in a necropolis that lures you with its beauty. It feels like the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the building and eventually the space will become a time capsule shrink wrapped for the archive and searching for its final resting place.
My initial response to Geoffrey Farmer‘s Leaves of Grass was “this is obscene.” After more time spent with the work my response was still “this is obscene.” His process (a team spending countless hours cutting and pasting), the content (17,000+ cut outs from 5 decades of Life Magazine) and the final presentation (100+ feet of archivally problematic paper, grass and glue) illustrate the absurdity by which we hold on to the past. We collect, categorize and create hierarchies of meaning that allow for justifications of all kinds. We trap ourselves in a constructed story from which we can no longer budge. Leaves of Grass is an absolutely breathtaking piece but as stunning as it is, the work is suffocating. There is too much to take in with no place for the eye to rest; a well executed entanglement of wicked questions. Do our strategies for classification make perfect sense? Are they nonsense? How do they really help?
Junk culture. That is what we are left with and this is the legacy that many of the contemporary artists in this show are trying to illuminate.
David Armstrong Six, The Radiologist, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Parisian Laundry. Photo: Matthew Koudys)
The shadowside of Readymades
“Combining found objects with a variety of materials – plaster, plywood, steel, rebar – his sculptural explorations merge the raw and the readymade into aesthetically intriguing and ambiguous compositions.” (sited from Shine A Light catalogue)
David Armstrong Six continues in the tradition of the readymade but Duchamp and the Dadaists weren’t working at a time when people had to be concerned about an impending environmental crisis. Bricolage takes on a different meaning when we are at risk of burying ourselves alive in a rubble pile of our own making. Maybe ‘l’art pour l’art’ is no longer enough to redeem the materials.
This is the question that An Te Liu seems to be trying to tease out as he works with casting the materials that accumulate from our post-modern predicament with packaging. Arranged like collection of Brâncușis, the five pieces are beautiful to behold but lack the life force that Brâncuși’s pieces, made of wood and stone, exhale. Rendered in ceramic and metals they give the impression of impotence like the materials they reference, materials that will persist in the environment without the capacity to be generative.
From the room with the David Armstrong Six’s readymades and An Te Liu’s towers you can look out across the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery and view Luke Parnell’s Phantom Limbs from above. Here yet another graveyard is encountered. The 48 wood carvings laid on the ground are made to represent the homecoming of the ancestors when the Haida Repatriation project succeeded in having ceremonial objects and human remains returned to Haida Gwaii from private and public collections. Luke gave each carving a different expression. Contained under cases of plexi some look understandably pissed.
The Shine A Light catalogue, arranged alphabetically with each artist’s name, ends with the work of Lawerence Paul Yuxweluptun and a 2 page spread of his painting Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (see above). This work hasn’t been publicly viewed for nearly 2 decades. Now seems like the requisite moment to bring it out again to remind us that in those 20 years we haven’t transitioned forward with many solutions. Instead we see a global trend to become more entrenched with ‘pie in the sky’ ways of living. Suffering with the collective trauma of watching our world come to the brink of disaster do we brush off our artists as Chicken Littles? Because the sky is indeed falling, our ozone layer is literally breaking apart into pieces.
On the back wall of the 2nd floor is The Arsenal, a work by Jutai Toonoo. It is a large scale oil stick drawing of T cells. He created the work at a moment when he was trying to understand the pathology of the cancer his mother was stricken with. The helpful T cells fight against viruses, bacteria and diseases.
Our material culture is replicating faster than stage 4 cancer. It metastasizes in places as topographically different as Chernyobyl, Nunavut and India. The micro T cells, as the subject of Jutai’s work, are metamorphosed into a macro landscape that covers a large expanse across the Gallery’s wall. The allied cells shine like a phosphorescence glow in an inky black sea. After the challenging content of Shine A Light his work highlights hope. We are in need of an arsenal of solutions to push back the chaos. Encoded in the DNA of the planet are the cellular memories that can transform a landscape in crisis.
Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.
From Haida artist Robert Davidson to American artist Kara Walker Mixed Bag Mag covered a lot of artistic ground.
My art muscle is damn strong! In 4 days I was able to cover (almost) everything. It was a major marathon (Bed-Stuy to Manhattan – up to Harlem – back to Brooklyn) but I arrived at the finish line inspired by all that New York has to offer right now.
It was the small-but-mighty shows that grabbed my attention the most and made me regret that I wouldn’t be staying longer.
& of course Surveillapocalypse with the 007 Collective and artCodex at Five Myles Gallery Brooklyn. The work of Brooklyn based artist David Wallace was beautiful to witness.
I have been around the world – East Berlin during the Reunification of Germany, L.A. during the Rodney King riots, even Johannesburg leading up to the elections where Mandela’s win changed the course of history…
…but never New York!
Sometimes living close by a place makes you take it for granted. This trip was about righting that wrong and finally showing some love to New York. And the timing couldn’t have been better for gathering MIXED BAG MAG style content! Also on the agenda was Kara Walker’s A Subtlety at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn as well as seeing Ai Wei Wei’s According to What for a second time at the Brooklyn Museum. It was interesting comparing this iteration of the show to last year’s at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Another chance at comparison will be when the AGO hostsBefore and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, currently on at the National Museum of the American Indian.
When you deep dive into a city’s art scene to explore different neighbourhoods with their private galleries, artist-run centres and national institutions you witness how much art enriches the lives of the inhabitants as well as the visitors. Life wouldn’t be as wonderful without artists!
I got a little lazy pulling out my clunky pro camera so I decided instead to capture New York thru the lightness of a cell cam. Here is just a small sampling of what I experienced. There will be more trips south of the border in an effort to uncover how artists transform urban spaces and cultural places but for this moment I was just a 21st Century flâneur with a phone.
Maria Hupfield stands in front of “Splash” a sculpture by Haitian-American artist Engles.
When Worlds Collide How Do You Return Back to Home?
Last Friday I experienced Akram Khan’s DESH at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Akram is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary dancers / choreographers and like so many people in the 21st Century he is attempting to perform a balancing act between two (or more) worlds. There is the England of his own biography peppered with the history of the Bangladesh his parents left when they came from Dhaka to Wimbledon where Akram was born.
Once caught mimicking Michael Jackson dance moves, Akram (who also credits being inspired by the moves of Bruce Lee, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin) was immediately put into Kathak classes – his parents attempt to keep him rhythmically attuned to the sub-continent rather than the beat of American pop culture.
Eventually though the mash-up masala that London was produced this phenomenon of a performer who brilliantly synthesizes Occident and Orient into the most moving experiences for his audiences. Akram has also worked with other Brits who have built their careers around the psychological space created by cultural hybridity – writer Hanif Kureishi (Sammie & Rosie Get Laid, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia), internationally renowned artist Sir Anish Kapoor, and musician-composer-producer Nitin Sawhney who has worked with musical ‘fusion-aries’ like Natacha Atlas, Cheb Mami, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and most recently produced the score for Canadian director Deepha Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – a poignant narrative on the agony and the ecstasy of hovering between many states of being.
“Contemporary dance can have more ambiguity which means it can also have many more stories”
DESH (which means homeland in Bangla) starts in a pre-Partition place then moves forward and backward through memories around the birth of modern day Bangladesh and the genesis of the dancer’s career in Great Britain.
When asked after his NAC performance if DESH is based on the biography of his and his father’s lives Akram replies “it was personal, but not so much to be about me but to be universal.” Akram and his team went to Bangladesh to gather stories they could link to his own and from that experience arose DESH. He went on to say that in contemporary dance there is more ambiguity in the delivery so the interpretation is able to hit closer to home for more people regardless of whether the audience has a historical connection to the story.
The miracle of multiplicity.
A day after viewing DESH I found myself at DOPPELGANGING: A Master Class held at Galerie SAW Gallery and facilitated by Kuwati-born Palestianian-American media artist Basma Alsharif. Basma’s Master Class was based on her struggles as an artist and human being to come to terms with her own shifting identity(s). She relates that when in America she would put on her American identity like a cloak. On the family’s yearly visits back to Palestine she would switch her psychological attire. She would flip flop back and forth with desire for the place she wasn’t physically in “living two lives separated from each other but existing at the same time.” She says she began to “perform” her identities “either defending an identity or denying it” and always trying to find a way to solidify all of herself(s).
The Story of Milk and Honey قصة حليب و عسل
“I decided to explore the psychology of endless travel, isolation and escapism…I discovered a letter without an envelope or address”
The question she put to us – is there a way to take this bifurcation of our beings and turn it into a position of strength?
I would argue that many already have.
At a time when we have a multiplicity of narratives these voices did not descend into dissonance, rather they have become a well articulated melody that many hear.
The ability of artists to translate the universality of experience is what helps us remember how to listen to each others words and respect our shared humanity.
We all understand a desire for home, for sovereignty of state, for peace of mind.
Cultural provocateurs, like Akram and Basma, offer us a road map to recover the treasure of deep empathy and a way back to “home”.
“Timeraiser is a volunteer matching fair, a silent art auction, and a night out on the town. The big Timeraiser twist is rather than bid money on artwork, participants bid volunteer hours.
Throughout the evening, participants meet with various non-profit organizations in the room to find available volunteer opportunities that meet their needs. Once matches are made, the bidding can begin. Winning bidders have 12 months to complete their pledge in order to bring the artwork home as a reminder of their goodwill”
Re-inventing the wheel – what Duchamp’s Ready-mades, Ai Weiwei and Toronto’s cyclists have in common.
“In 2013, we will celebrate the centenary of the Armory Show, the International Exhibition of Modern Art that was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories, New York and is considered as a breaking point, crucial in the history of modernity. Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp’s cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase. The same year, Duchamp installed a Bicycle Wheel on a chair in his studio and this is considered as well as the starting point of the intrusion of “Ready-mades” (found objects which Duchamp chose and presented as art) in the art world. The idea was to question the very notion of Art and the artistic attitude towards objects. The objects found on the street, chosen by the artist, will take an aura of art object within the frame of the art institution. We now live in a century where objects exist in the museums and the exhibition spaces. If we take the objects back to the street in the context of an event like Nuit Blanche, while allowing the artists to treat and handle them as referenced works of art, we hope to close the loop and reconcile the public with the status of the ubiquity of the object.” ~ Ami Barak, Visiting Curator for Nuit Blanche 2013on “Off to a Flying Start”
While listening to French curator Ami Barak speak at this week’s Power Plant lecture regarding his curatorial choices for Nuit Blanche I couldn’t help but think of one of this city’s advocates for cyclists and how she’s probably excited for all the focus placed on bikes this year.
“In addition to the significant lack of on-street bike infrastructure, one of the biggest issues for those riding bikes to get around the city is the condition of the roadways. Years-old utility cuts and potholes are a major hazard on some of the most heavily used routes. This terrible road surface is often found in the already difficult to navigate space between the doorzone and streetcar tracks on most of the East-West routes – this creates an even more dangerous scenario for even the most experienced riders.“
Toronto’s Arts Festivals seem to have a knack for intuitively selecting themes that are timely – Luminato’s choice for its 2011 production of 1001 Nights and that year’s focus on Arab performers and writers helped expand the dialogue around the Arab Spring immediately after it happened. Ami’s choice for installing Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles at City Hall corresponds well with Ai Weiwei’s current exhibit at the AGO that speaks to human rights abuses by the Chinese government but perhaps unanticipated, although certainly important, is how Forever Bicycles speaks to Toronto’s recent issues and the rights of its citizens to have their concerns regarding cycling acknowledged by our government.
Speaking about Forever Bicycles Yvonne says “It’s such a thrill that it is on the doorstep of City Hall. I can’t think of a better place for it to be! Hopefully it sends a message and is not just seen as a structure made of bikes – that it resonates with people at city hall as relating to current issues.”
Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Deconstructing the object by displacement.
Also an artist, Yvonne’s own bike inspired and politically motivated work was on display recently at the Hashtag Gallery on Dundas Street West. Yvonne snaps the city at street level then uses deconstructed bike wheels as frames – an interesting way to open up dialogue around the issues.
Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Duchamp’s removal of an object from its familiar state and his presentation of it as an objet d’art was one of the actions of modernity that domino affected us into a century of change. The referential impact still reads as contemporary into the 21st Century as exemplified in works like Yvonne’s as well as those selected by Ami for Saturday’s big event. Thanks to Ami the dislocation of both objects of motion and objects of rest can be seen this year at Nuit Blanche – Toronto artist Bruno Brilo’s Familia, Garden Tower in Toronto by Tadashi Kawamata, Tortoise by Michel de Broin, Melik Ohanian’s El Agua de Nieblaand Pascale Marthine Tayou’s stunning presentation efficiently titled Plastic Bags.
For Ami, this idea of the “répétition du même objet” and how objects repeated over and over change the meaning is important. For Yvonne “speaking to this idea of repetition, I think that at this stage in Toronto it is too hard to ignore that so many people are choosing bicycles and that they are everywhere! You can’t ignore that much of the voting population and that how the city functions with regards to transportation includes bicycles.”
Ami’s choice of placing Ai Weiwei’s 3,000+ interconnected bicycles in front of City Hall may just become, for Toronto cyclists, a symbolicist act for contemporary Toronto.
For more information on how you can be a part of the movement to make Toronto a more bike-friendly city Yvonne recommends Cycle Toronto. “They are a city-wide cycling advocacy organization who are working year-round on improving conditions for people riding bikes in the city.”
For more information on Ami’s curatorial statement for “Off to a Flying Start” check out the Consulate General of France’s initiative Paris-Toronto and Nuit Blanche.
FYI – If you missed Ami’s talk this past Monday you can hear him again Saturday afternoon at 2 pm at The Power Plant along with the other Nuit Blanche curators – Patrick Macaulay, Ivan Jurakic and Crystal Mowry.
Every which way, by Kim Adams. Photo by Steven Martin, courtesy Museum London. (Image via Dandyhorse Magazine.) Every which way, by Kim Adams. Courtesy of Diaz Contemporary. (Image via Dandyhorse Magazine.)
Curator Sanaz Mazinani’s show The Third Space is wrapping up this weekend at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. MIXED BAG MAG caught up with this busy and multi-talented woman whose career as an artist, educator and curator has her bifurcating herself between Toronto and San Francisco. In the second part (read Part 1 here) of MIXED BAG MAG’s look into the work of contemporary Iranian art Sanaz offers historical background to the contemporary foreground of some of the work included The Third Space and the symbolic and visual power of script.
The History of Calligraphy in Persia
Persian Calligraphy has had a significant effect on the enhancement of Persian arts and culture. The various Iranian Calligraphic styles, such as Taliq, Nastaliq, Naskh, Thulth, Reqa, Towqi, Shekasteh, and Kufic each carry with them an emblem of an era of history. These decorative scripts allow the reader to visually enjoy the composition of the word, in a wholly new way, providing the viewer with multiple levels of engagement with the work of art.
Contemporary use of calligraphy by Iranian artists
Many Iranian artists find inspiration in the traditional forms of Persian Calligraphy. However, few are able to successfully marry the traditional forms of calligraphy with a contemporary voice in new and successful ways. One of these artists is Gita Hashemi, whose recent project “The Book of Illuminations” is featured in “The Third Space” exhibition. In this work Hashemi explores the intersection between politics and the personal through calligraphic representations of culturally charged words. Her calligraphy paintings do not merely render poetic verses, but aim to unpack the meaning behind words that we use on a daily basis to symbolically question cultural in-tolerances. One example uses the word “غربتی” which is a derogatory term that comes from the root word “غربت” and means the longing for one’s homeland. But used as an offensive term, it takes on a new meaning and refers to that person as someone who does not belong, and does not fit into the norm. These terms shown here in proximity to the personal narration of the artist’s life writing speak to the expectations placed on us and the limitations of societal benchmarks. Hashemi’sThe Book of Illuminations is a fresh approach to the long tradition of calligraphy from Iran and uses a feminist perspective to challenge this traditionally male-dominated, decorative practice by inserting the political into the equation.
In another project, Toronto based artist, Sona Safaei, uses the Farsi and English alphabet and essay writing styles to uncover the differences in the two languages, which intern demonstrate alternative ways of thinking through a subject. Her process often engages with lost meanings in translations, as she questions the possibility of communications across cultures through looking at the self and the feelings associated with otherness. In The Third Space exhibition, Safaei-Sooreh two works respond to the meeting of two languages (English and Farsi). In Alphabet, the viewer finds herself in front of a split screen video as the camera tracks two alphabets being hand written in pencil – one in English, from left to right, and the other in Farsi, from right to left. A dense and textured sound enhances the experience of watching each gesture. The sounds from the left and right videos combine in a seamless collaboration. An amalgamation occurs precisely at the moment when the video loop comes to a close and both sets of alphabets have been written out tin their entirety. This charming momentary union marks an important occurrence, as the English alphabet includes 26 letters and the Persian alphabet 32, this serendipitous synchronicity signals a potential for cohesion of these two cultures. Safaei-Sooreh’s second work titled, Border is a dual channel video installation in which two sets of texts on the subject of art intersect at the corner of a room. The writing disappears on the borderline where adjacent walls meet, creating a unique experience for the viewer, as the piece examines the duality of experiences always at play in transcultural situations.