FICTIONS & LEGENDS: Jérôme Havre Closes at the Textile Museum, Toronto

Jérôme Havre, Untitled (Hybrid Series), 2010, fabric, kapok. 75 cm tall. Photo: Paul Litherland. Image from Textile Museum

I had two different experiences of Jérôme Havre’s work.

1. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE

Images taken of a past exhibit showed a presentation that was unique in the way it utilized almost the entire square footage it occupied within the gallery space. A pattern in black and white had been painted onto the wall, wrapping the room and melting onto a grayed floor. I didn’t know what the pattern represented but I knew I loved it. The repetition was calming and invigorating at the same time.

Standing on pedestals (or as I later realized hovering slightly above them suspended from the ceiling) were these beautiful beings that you could tell had been handcrafted with colourful textiles that added more pattern to delight the eye. They were fashioned with lumps and bumps but also with feet so I got the sense that some hybrid being had emerged from the artist’s imagination.

Nothing immediately came to mind to compare them to but the entire effect of the patterned wall, free floating sculptures and pedestals that felt more like architectural remnants made for maximum impact!

I was excited to see the show at the Textile Museum so that I could get a sense of it all – up close and personal.

2. PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE 

What I was looking forward to the most in seeing Jérôme’s work in the flesh was the experience of being enveloped by the install. I admire artists who know how to create an environment that makes me feel as though I am walking into a very different kind of space, one that catches me off guard – disarming me a little or provoking me a lot.

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi Yasui. Image from the Textile Museum

Fictions and Legends, that also includes the meticulous and stunning work of Heather Goodchild, did not disappoint! Immediately upon entering the exhibit you know you have walked into a show that is going to be a very different experience than one would expect at the Textile Museum or any other gallery for that matter.

The first room I walked into was wrapped with fabric on which Heather had painted symbols that felt religious and words that felt sacred. Thick curtains closed off secret spaces. Once inside those spaces I was met with rug hookings that seemed antique in their technique but the scenes depicted didn’t match the pastoral compositions you would expect. They felt foreboding – almost apocalyptic. The scene on the last rug before the entrance to Jérôme’s space made me particularly uncomfortable but I will come back to that.

Heather Goodchild, Get Behind Me. Image from the Textile Museum

I then stepped into the space that Jérôme had constructed. This room was devoid of the curtains that acted as barriers in Heather’s install. In fact, just like the images I saw online, everything was installed without obstructions.

I had yet to see all of Heather’s work so I left Jérôme’s area to enter into the final scenes she had created. This time, instead of textiles on the walls, porcelain figurines, bigger than dolls but smaller than life-size, were configured into scenes that read as vaguely Biblical, some sort of moral tale was being told even if I couldn’t call up an immediate reference as to who and what. The scenes, much like the rug hooking on the walls, were haunting. Some of the female figurines seemed to be committing dirty deeds done dirt cheap. As I overheard one person say Heather’s work contained “creatures we don’t understand and stories we don’t want to tell.”

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi YasuiImage from the Textile Museum

In all of the scenes Heather constructed there was an implied demarcation where the viewer was to stand, like an impotent witness.

Heather’s work was cloistered, staged and secretive; precious and breakable therefore untouchable. Her figures were stark white and clearly female with contrived faces with unbroken expressions; poses that were rigid and fixed.

When juxtaposed with Jérôme’s work I couldn’t help but feel that the two installs where pushing off each other with an intense force – in binary opposition.

For everything Heather’s work was Jérôme’s was not – out in the open and close enough to touch; made of fabric that was flexible enough to withstand impact. The hybrid beings referenced ‘blackness’ and their bricolage bodies were stitched together from fragments of nylon and cotton leftovers making them uneven and soft, although sturdy. They each hung suspended, turning slowly to animate the space. In Heather’s install there was silence. In  Jérôme’s the sound of wild birds.

I didn’t recall, from my reading of the exhibit prior to entering, that it was meant to be an exhibit speaking on the subject of race but in this space, the realities of race seemed inescapable.


I returned many times trying to reach back to that first moment when I saw Jérôme’s work and had read it so differently.

My experience provoked me and I needed to get to the bottom of it. When I attended a LUFF Art + Dialogue’s Open Sesame Event discussing the Fictions & Legends show I entered into a room full of knowledgeable art professionals but it was a predominately white space. Jérôme was in attendance. Would he would let the cat out of the bag that the artist was present? Even if he didn’t it, the obvious elephant in the room was the fact that he was the one black male in a group of mostly white bodies. How would this fact impact the discussion?

Just prior to seeing Jérôme’s work I had attended the Vodou Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilzation. In an effort to works towards better understanding of their spiritual practice, hopefully resulting in new found respect, members of the Haitian Vodou community in Montreal were involved in the organization of the show. As I walked through the exhibit though I wondered if people would be able to see (feel) past their preconceived notions. We grow up on a steady diet of stereotypes so much so that the unconscious must store those unsettling thoughts, maybe even keeping them under wraps, but they aren’t so buried that they can’t emerge in an unfortunate moment.

And just before the Vodou exhibit  I had visited the National Gallery in Ottawa where part of Carrie Mae Weem’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried was installed on a wall. On the four red tinted ethnographic daguerreotypes of black men and black women are the words:

You become a scientific profile,

a negroid type,

an anthropological debate,

a photographic subject.

In reviewing Jérôme’s work to sit down and write out my thoughts for this post I look again at one of the first images I saw of his work. I see something I hadn’t noticed before. A framed image hanging on the wall that reads:

When will we be just beautiful?

The Fact the lies in Fictions and Legends

In Fictions and Legends, the scene in the rug hooking that left me so unsettled was of a white female body lying on the ground with her back to the viewer. Overshadowing her body like a storm cloud is a black animal-like being, pressing itself into her skin.

In the Exhibition Overview I read:

“Both artists tease out our deepest collective cultural experiences, practices and beliefs by proposing evocative truths in the form of fictions and legends.”

For as far as humanity has come regarding race, in a mind’s deep recesses not consciously inhabited, what lies in opposition to whiteness is still blackness.

Fictions and Legends closes this weekend. Don’t miss a chance to experience this engaging exhibit without comparision!

View more of Jérôme Havre’s work here.

For more of Heather’s work visit www.heathergoodchild.com.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Geoffrey Farmer @ Mercer Union & Maya textiles from Guatemala @ Textile Museum Toronto

Two pieces of art work framed. On left photograph of two young girls with angel wings, on right photograph of older woman with halo, mixed media collage
Work by Verónica Riedel. Image courtesy of the Textile Museum.

Ancestry and Artistry: Maya textiles from Guatemala

“Cloth holds great importance for Guatemala’s indigenous communities, and traditional dress plays an essential role in Maya identity today as a vital link with the ancestral past and a means of cultural reinvention. Whether worn for religious ceremonies or as an emblem of ethnic pride, textiles offer a medium for innovation and creative expression, as well as a marketable product for the tourist industry. Through an array of textiles patterned with evocative designs rich in iconography, Ancestry and Artistry traces a century of dynamic change as well as the remarkable continuity of ancient Maya traditions in the face of significant modernization, political upheaval, and religious transformation.

Integrated into the exhibition is the work of contemporary artists Andrea Aragón, Verónica Riedel, and photo-journalist Jean-Marie Simon.” More info

Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Ave (Dundas St. W & University Ave., St. Patrick subway stop), Toronto, M5G 2H5
Open Daily 11 am – 5pm
Admission $15 adult, $6 student


Boneyard by Geoffrey Farmer. Image source Now Magazine.

A Light In The Moon: Geoffrey Farmer

“In her 1977 book On Photography Susan Sontag pronounced “to collect photographs is to collect the world.” This statement resonates with the work of Geoffrey Farmer who excavates multifarious cultural histories, from the life of Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, photographs in Life magazine between 1935 and 1985, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire, to the figure of Aloysius Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. Rather than existing in isolation these stories, or histories, are intertwined with social and political events, music, visual art, film and happenstance through atmospheric and multifaceted installations combining video, film, sculptural elements, found objects, and sound. The exhibitionary moment becomes a magical space to tackle larger themes of the dialectical relationship between reality and artifice, how we understand our existence, knowledge and power.

A Light In The Moon refers to Gertrude Stein’s 1914 poem which breaks from a possible ‘sensible decision’ to a litany of options, possibilities, excitements and creations. Often playful, Farmer’s work leads us to renegotiate how we look at objects, and the meanings they elicit. In gathering histories, stories, objects, sounds, and images through poetic and theatrical installations, Farmer prompts wonder and undermines and disrupts the very concept of categorization or an encyclopedia of the world in which we live. Underlining such ideas is the capacity for anything, an object or an artwork, to alter its role and significance alluding to continual transformation and the potential for change.” More info…

Mercer Union
1286 Bloor Street West. Toronto, M6H 1N9 (One block east of Lansdowne TTC Station)
Saturday 11 am – 6 pm (Closed on Sundays)
Admission FREE

Take a moment this weekend to see these short but sweet shows!

EXHIBITION: Shelley Niro at Centre 3 in Hamilton

Black woman and aboriginal woman standing in front of art work
Curator Sally Frater with artist Shelley Niro. Image from Gallery 44.

EXHIBITION – M: Stories of Women
A series of digital photo-montages curated by Sally Frater
Exhibit runs until February 23

173 James Street North, Hamilton, Ontario, L8R 2K9
Gallery hours: Wednesday to Saturday 11 am – 5 pm

More info on Akimbo & Centre 3

Mixed media collage of Aboriginal Woman with wind turbines and upside down trees bordering the image
Work by Shelley Niro. Image from Akimbo.

LOOKING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS: The Art of Chiko Chazunguza

Shift art show at BAND Gallery Toronto, artist Chiko Chazunguza
Shift: Chiko Chazunguza at B.A.N.D Gallery. Photo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Reflecting on the Traditional in Transition 

Perhaps the most obvious comparison one might make upon seeing Chiko Chazunguza’s paintings would be to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. But to stop there would be like experiencing a Wifredo Lam painting in the Cubist style and expecting that its inspiration followed the same trajectory to creation as a painting by Picasso. Like these masters of Cubism, Chiko and Jean-Michel punctuate the compositional conversation with some shared visual shorthand and technique but the point from which they leap off of is, like Lam and Picasso, individually unique and located within their own cultural specificity.

Originally from just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, Chiko spent seven years in Sofia, Bulgaria on an art scholarship. While in Sofia he “was trained in the classical modes of printmaking, drawing and painting”. Upon arriving home though Chiko realized that in order to expand as an artist he would have to enter back into the culture of his youth so he could find a visual language that would be his true to his way of scripting a story.

“I wanted to pick a language I could use that was compatible to my history, my tradition.”

Painting by Zimbabwean artist Chiko ChazunguzaHuman walls by Chiko Chazunguza. 

Finding a New Visual Language

The inspiration of mis-registration, the effect given by the areas that overlap and bleed out in screen-printing, seemed appropriate for this cultural provocateur. It was Chiko’s experience as a printmaker that made him “approach painting with an attitude of non-conformity”, to shift the paint just outside the lines. This overlapping and layering, inherent in the process of screen printing, spoke to the layers of culture – traditional tribal, leftover colonial, urban contemporary – that blanketed Zimbabwe in repression upon Chiko’s return.

“It was like being in Sofia during the breakdown of the old regime. Communism was kicking its last kicks was a dying horse and the political condition that I arrived home to was much the same.”

But it was not until another move, another cultural relocation, that Chiko began the collection and style of paintings showcased at the  B.A.N.D Gallery for his show SHIFT.

Upon moving to Canada this artist, who is known back home for his installations that poke and prod at the socio-political contentions of a country in flux, picked up a pop can then oddly enough was inspired to paint.

Detail of mixed media painting by Chiko Chazunguza, pop can strips weaved throughNursery 2 (detail) by Chiko Chazunguza. 

It was the omnipresence of aluminum soda cans in Canada and their ease of acquisition that made them fitting as a symbol for consumer culture. Along with being ubiquitous they were durable – omni-persistent!

Mixed media painting by Chiko ChazunguzaNursery 2 by Chiko Chazunguza.

It was the “generousity of Canadians” who upon hearing he was an artist stocked him up with paint that got him started in combining the two materials to continue his theme of “reflecting on the traditional in transition.”

“Here food is always being advertised. It is at your doorstep, in your mailbox. Pop is a drink that is not necessary but it is always in front of you.”

Juxtaposed with hard memories of scarcity back in Zimbabwe, where people had to line-up single file into endless rows for basic staples, a vision was realized for a new body of work.

“Line-ups and people waiting in suspense for something to come, that was my inspiration…these line-ups look beautiful in their own way and you can almost forget the struggle…When there is a crisis, a shortage of basic commodities people behave differently and visually this informs.”

Mixed media painting by Chiko ChazunguzaPassage by Chiko Chazunguza.

Shifting our Ideas of Who We Are

Many of the paintings in the SHIFT show come with pop cans, liquor labels and food advertisements cutting through the canvas like interruptions. They are then woven over, around and through deconstructed figures, busy heading nowhere in never-ending cues for food, for water, for life. Urbanization in Zimbabwe led to the inability for one to produce his or her own food which had been the previous traditional practice.  A population of producers turned into a population of dependent consumers enmeshed (like the cans in Chiko’s work) in the ebb and flow of changing regimes.

“The figures are multi-faced; the disfiguration is because one’s face may change into all sorts of faces in that queue.”

While waiting in line with a stranger one can “start chatting, become friends, fall in love.” But by the end of the line the friend becomes the enemy and the lover a foe if one gets the last ration with nothing left for the one behind.

Mixed media painting by Chiko ChazunguzaNursery 1 by Chiko Chazunguza

Although the painted experience in Chiko’s work is intimately personal the anonymous quality of the figures in his paintings let them become the every(wo)man, no longer a “them” but an “us” as together, in this contemporary context, we face a future of scarcity on a global scale.

Following in the tradition of artists like the aforementioned Wifredo Lam we can see that Chiko, for his inspiration and call to action as an artist, draws from the common experiences of humanity in transition.

 “Through art, I reflect upon how issues such as spirituality, disposition, denied access and interference with basic commodities, and the painful evolution of ancient cultural traditions into contemporary yet uncertain urbanized communities, all shape and shift our constructed notions of identity.”

Pamela Edmonds the curator for Shift with artist Chiko ChazunguzaShow curator Pamela Edmonds of Third Space Art Projects with artist Chiko Chazunguza.

More of Chiko’s work can be viewed on his website www.chikochazunguza.ca or until March 31st at the The Lorraine Fritzi Yale Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario.

All photography by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.