CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: The Sahmat Collective – Art & Activism in India since 1989 at The Art Gallery of Mississauga

The Sahmat Collective is another great show at the AGM!

I recently had the chance to get in to the AGM to see this incredible show. The Art Gallery of Mississauga isn’t exactly small and it isn’t exactly large but it seems to be the optimal amount of space and it’s always beautifully utilized. The corridor that takes you into the main gallery feels like an intimate welcome that primes you for what lies ahead. There is also a cave-like alcove that works perfectly for video installations. Every time I see an exhibit here I am impressed!


Above images of gallery space courtesy Art Gallery of Mississauga.

The AGM is a gallery that is doing a tremendous job making their institution relevant to the broader community of Mississauga – one of the most culturally diverse in Canada. Their current exhibit The Sahmat Collective: Art & Activism in India since 1989 uses up almost every available surface in the gallery to create a time capsule of India at a moment in her history when culture clashes were reaching a boiling point.

“Since 1989, the influential Delhi based Sahmat Collective has offered a platform for artists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, and activists to create and present works of art that promote artistic freedom and celebrate secular, egalitarian values. The collective formed in the weeks after playwright, actor,and activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked by political thugs while performing a street play. In the more than twenty years since, Sahmat has drawn on India’s secular heritage and an expansive group of collaborators to produce a series of projects that engage in important political and social debates through a mix of high art and street culture.” Read more…

I walked through the show with a friend who had grown up in Gujarat. As a Muslim she had memories of the religious conflicts. The exhibit timeline reached back to touch her early childhood. The Sahmat Collective was the result of a reaction to what was taking place around her, her family and others at this time.


Ways of Resisting
from Smart Museum of Art on Vimeo.

In urban settings where much of the population comes from abroad arts institutions can become midwives for the emergence of memories that provide a link to the motherland left behind. Galleries can give the members of their community an emotionally deep experience by participating with memory, not as nostalgia, but rather as place to locate dialogue that can impact social change here in Canada.

As part of the programming for The Sahmat Collective show the AGM did just that. “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally” was a panel discussion on “Art, Activism and Artist Collectives” that included Canadian artist duo Condé + Beveridge activists / artists whose careers stretch back even father than 1989. The panel posed the question:

“What is the role of the artist collective and what is the relationship between art and activism from both a global and local perspective?”

Galleries should also be looking at the spiritual topography that New Canadians layer onto the land as a way to be relevant to more diverse audiences. “Stories of our Landscape | Conversations after Sahmatwas an event that brought people out to ride along in the “Architecture Bus Tour” for “an introduction to the migration of various religious architectural traditions to the Mississauga cityscape.”

The exhibit curated by Jessica Moss and Ram Rahman and presented by University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art was

“animated by the urgent belief that art can propel change and that culture can reach across boundaries. Sahmat has offered a platform for an expansive group of artists and collaborators to present powerful works of art that defend freedom of expression and battle intolerance within India’s often divisive political landscape. Based out of Delhi, the Sahmat Collective uses a combination of high art and street art to resist forces that threaten the pluralist and democratic spirit of creative expression in India. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Art Gallery of Mississauga presents programming that interprets exhibition themes within the Canadian context to critically examine the role of the artist collective, the relationship between art and activism and the ways in which art has the capacity to make change.” Read more…

In plurality their is unity. With unity comes strength.

The Sahmat Collective: Art & Activism in India since 1989 closes this weekend October 19.
More info on AGM’s website as well as on Facebook and twitter @AGMengage.

To explore The Sahmat Collective further visit Vimeo for a selection of videos that give an informative background of their rich practice.

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

 

NOT WHAT YOU MIGHT THINK: Vodou Closing This Weekend at Museum of Civilization

“The public knows, on the whole, very little about Vodou…”

…It is a world weighed down by centuries of fabrication, most of it negative. Since the twentieth century, with the help of many literary works and films, numerous prejudices and clichés have been passed off as true: the omnipresence of black magic and zombies, the evil Vodou doll, etc. Such a context makes Vodou a dream subject for anyone who values a museum’s educational mission, since there is much to be done.”
~Curator, Mauro Peressini

As my friend and I walked into the last room in the Vodou Exhibition at the Museum of Civilization she commented that really, for all the division religion creates, there are always core elements in each that remain consistent – a code of ethics, respect for a higher power, belief in the afterlife as well as a faith that in this world we have the ability to call upon guides in the spiritual realm to intercede on our behalf.

Vodou is no different. “God is perceived as a general energy that is quite powerful and the lwa are the manifestations of that energy…the sparks of the Great Energy in the elements [earth, fire, sky, water].” Gran Mèt (The Great Master) is “an entity so absolute that one can neither imagine it nor communicate directly with it.”

The exhibit, upon first glance, may not seem to shift from stereotypes – there are skulls, dark creatures, videos of practitioners in trance – but this well curated exhibit is intersected every few feet with video stations where you can pause and have the mystery of what you are witnessing explained.

These videos are key in communicating what Voudoists would like you to take away from the exhibit. If you are willing to interact and take them in you will leave at the end of your journey through the exhibit with a profound insight into this rich and deeply layered spiritual practice.

3 figures with skulls on top and decorated with metal and beads

“The voices and perspectives of Vodouists have a special place in Vodou…”

“…That is one of the essential characteristics of the exhibition. When we consider a cultural or religious group that is different from our own, learning what its members have to say about their reality is a fundamental first step, is it not?”
~Curator, Mauro Peressini

What on the surface looks a preoccupation with death, skulls often represent the presence of our ancestors and the connection we have to them in this life as comrades in our daily battles.

The lwa can be understood as energy archetypes that when we are unbalanced or repressing what we don’t dare speak are accessible to us in order to seek comfort and regain emotional composure.

Mirrors “associated with the spirit world…are protective channels that connect that world with the world of humans”

Pe (altars) “The many objects assembled on our pe remind us of our collective past and present, as well as of the personal and spiritual history of those to whom they belong. The objects are the accumulated traces of our relationships with our ancestors and our lwa (spirits)…”


Exhibit space with sculptures that are part of Vodou traditions

“Recounting of Haiti’s harsh past reveals the extent to which the country’s long history of slavery….has shaped Vodou symbols and practises.”

A religion of revolt, Vodou was birthed from the conditions of chaos and oppression. It was a cosmology that gave order and empowerment to people suffering greatly. Ciboney and Taino, the Indigenous People of the island that is now Haiti, and the slaves brought over from Africa found a synthesis that not only allowed them a way to keep a spiritual practice despite being dislocated and uprooted but Vodou gave them a type of lingua franca that led to the  eventual overthrow of the colonists.

Statue of a woman warrior with words Guinea on her breast to represent Africa, one arm raised in a salut.

“The curators worked in close consultation with members of Haitian-Canadian communities to help ensure the authenticity of the exhibition. The result is an experience that brings museum-goers into direct contact with Vodou artifacts and the people who use them.”

What I appreciated most about the curatorial vision of this exhibit was how interactive technology was utilized in order to have the audience converse back with the practitioners who opened up their world. Upon leaving the exhibit through a circular room of large mirrors a small private area allows you to speak to a computer to leave a message of your impressions of the exhibit. You are also invited to stay and watch the previous messages. Quite amazing!

The exhibit contains over 300+ plus objects, part of the Lehmann Collection, the largest collection of its kind in the world. The curators of the Vodou, Mauro Peressini (Museum of Civilization), Didier Dominique and Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, have done an incredible job in producing a provocative show that challenges and leaves one changed.

Vodou closes this Sunday at the Museum of Civilazation, Gatineau, Quebec.

More details on the website.

(Quotations sited from exhibit panels and text provided by Museum of Civilization)

Exhibit space with sculptures that are part of Vodou traditions
Embroidered tapestry with what looks like Moses holding 10 Commandments
woman with camera looking into large mirror with series of mirrors reflecting in mirror
Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

MIXED BAG MAG RECOMMENDS: Midnight’s Children

In the reality of each of our lives lies the potential for magic.

The stories of Salman Rushdie often centre around hybrid places and the impact they have on the psyche of their inhabitants. His characters labour with the problems that can arise with religious and ethnic pluralism. The characters in Midnight’s Children, a story set at the birth of India’s Independence, flesh out a history whose fecundity is ripe with possibilities but also all the pitfalls that come along with a diverse population in competition for their own interests.

The story of Midnight’s Children revolves around Saleem Sinai, a baby boy born at the precise moment of Independence, whose divine timing, as he says makes him “handcuffed to history.” Through his adult eyes we go back with Saleem to witness the importance of his birth and how it plays out in his life. Even the normal moments of his childhood that like so many of us involved bicycles, movie theatres and games of hide & seek, upon reflection become mythological in proportion. We join him in his search to connect the dots of a painful life that was not without its own beauty and his special gift that flips like two sides of a coin between being a blessing and curse.

In the book I enjoyed the twists and turns that the characters take along their migratory paths criss-crossing the sub-continent as well as landing in the newly formed Pakistan and Bangladesh. Rushdie’s tales are deeply layered and I appreciate the history lesson one gets when reading a Rushdie novel. I love his choice of using magic realism because the genre allows him to pierce the mystical qualities of life to show how simple moments, like a child born at the stroke of midnight, can be the stuff of legends.

In the movie I enjoyed Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s intimacy in her choice of shots. She allowed us to get very close to the characters which added a warmth to them that I missed in the book because it was so densely packed with historical details.

The other special elements in the movie was the choice to use Rushdie as the narrator and voice of Saleem Sinai as well as the moving musical score by the brilliant British composer Nitin Sawhney.

The book and the movie  each stand on their own but MIXED BAG MAG recommends treating yourself  to both. It is worth what you come away with – the idea that in the reality of each of our lives lies the potential of magic and the elements that myths are made of.

Visit the Midnight’s Children website, follow along on Facebook and twitter  @midnightsmovie #MidnightsChildren.

For Toronto screen times visit Cinema Clock!