York Quay Gallery I York Quay Centre, Harbourfront Centre (Toronto)
Asma Arshad Mahmood
Curated by Rachel Kalpana James
Opening Reception: Saturday, 18 August, 2001. 4-6pm
Artists’ talk: Sunday, 19 August, 4-6pm
alienNATION is an exhibition of paintings curated by Rachel Kalpana James for SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Collective), as part of Magic Feet Canada’s Masala! Mehndi! Masti! Festival at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto from August 17 to 19, 2001.
SAVAC’s latest show, alienNATION, showcases works by 6 established South Asian artists of diverse stories: Dhruvi Acharya (New York), Uday Dhar (New York), Moeen Faruqi (Toronto), Chitra Ganesh (New York), Asma Arshad Mahmood (Toronto) and Shaan Syed (Toronto).
The artists of this show, in their use of figurative painting, collectively seek to document our stories of who we are, how we got here and the emotions that constitute our identities. Here, South Asian artists, by nature a disparate and varied grouping, uniquely tell multiple stories of alienation.
Asma Arshad Mahmood tells her stories through a nude female body/bodies. Hazy, unclear images of the female form fill the canvas. Light obscured and shadowy forms waft through her pieces. Asma’s work is sensual without necessarily being sexual. Nude images of women in South Asia are still unusual enough to be noteworthy (often confined to erotic statues from yesteryear). But here, nakedness is natural without being sensational. Women are at their most essential, stripped of all that is extraneous. This is who we all are – alone.
Dhruvi Acharya also uses the female form. Her work documents the tension between home (on the other side of the world) and home (the new one). At first glimpse, the pieces bring a smile to the viewer because they are cartoonesque. At first. As one looks more carefully, one begins to sense sadness, contradiction and darkness, the constant companions of her subjects. Her colors evoke another place, not here. Multiple layers comprise her pieces, the multiple layers that we all carry with us. Rounded images of womanhood are a joy, as we see ordinary women living regular unglamorous lives. They have bubble thoughts. Their insides are of flowers. They sit at computers and dream of other worlds.
Uday Dhar‘s self portraits from his “Doppelganger” series speak for the Other. The Other that can be vilified and demonized is portrayed with a fierceness that is intense. Immigrant communities carry the knowledge that they are now the Other with them as they travel through their new lives in their new (or not so new for many of us) homelands. Dhar reincarnates himself using Indian deities to portray demons, rakchashas, bhoots, resident aliens, foreigners, ghoulish creatures all, no? We could be and are these displaced souls. Invisible, omnipotent, ever present.
Shaan Syed presents a completely different perspective on the theme of alienation. The forces of globalization, celebrity (and lack thereof) are taken on in his “The Everyone I Know Series.” It is an ambitious lifelong project that makes becoming immortalized a possibility for most of us who most likely will not have 15 minutes of fame. Syed uses memory to recreate everyone that he knows. There is a photographic quality to the series. And yet, where does art begin and reality end? What is fiction and what is fact? How does the individual fit into a world that is getting smaller and yet more dislocating than ever? How does one retain one’s sense of self in this new world order? As he says in his statement, “to live, and not somehow be validated or recognized is terrifying.”
Moeen Faruqi tells tales of the City. He says, “I believe that people of the modern metropolis share a common alienation… which comes of migration and exile, of being in unfamiliar surroundings, both physically and mentally.” Men and women, in a darkened universe, share a canvas yet remain apart. His works are harshly painted and speak to estrangement and loss, love and death. The impact of exile marks the faces of his subjects. And every so often, we are afforded glimpses of brightness and sunny days but the weight of memory and displacement may be too much to overcome.
Chitra Ganesh uses history as inspiration to portray those who are marginalized and subjugated. “My paintings create a space for narratives excluded from history, re-imagining femininity and national identity.” A recent series, inspired by the now deceased Phoolan Devi (the so-called ‘Bandit Queen’) reflects the artist’s interest in the intersections of violence, class and gender as well as her interest in how Bollywood and the mass media tell (mangle?) our stories.
“Each artist, through their display of a body of work, has used the human figure to evoke feelings of estrangement, loneliness, sadness, despair. We cannot forget that alienation comes with many faces. And so, in the end, what the viewer is left with is the universality of the human condition.”
alienNATION is generously supported by: The Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council
alienNATION is generously sponsored by: Magic Feet Canada and Harbourfront Centre