Thursday, 1 December 2016

"REACHING FOR A YONDER HOME": YONDER AT THE KOFFLER GALLERY

EXHIBITION REVIEWS

BY: SADIE MACDONALD

If you visited the Koffler Gallery and Artscape Youngplace this autumn, you would have come across Yonder. As the introductory panel states, the Yonder exhibition “[explores] themes of intercultural translation, displacement and identity construction" by "[bringing] together a group of Canadian artists from diverse cultural backgrounds whose works examine the immigrant condition.” Through several impressive installations, the artists behind Yonder reveal intimate glimpses into their immigrant experiences and explorations of identity.

Yonder at the Koffler Gallery. Photo credit: Sadie MacDonald

The exhibition takes full advantage of the building’s space, with artworks installed not only within the gallery space but also outside the building, over the ceiling ventilation system, and in the staircases. The artists tell their stories through various media such as photography, video, audio, and sculpture composed of materials like faux fur, vinyl, and human fingernails. Visually and thematically, there is much to engage with in this exhibition.

Yonder begins outside the building with Divya Mehra’s piece There are Greater Tragedies. Looking up at the flag and waiting for an opportune wind displays the words, “MY ARRIVAL IS YOUR UNDOING.” In a sense, the flag heralds Mehra’s works and the exhibition as a whole. Using a printed flag, traditionally a mark of national identity, is a thought-provoking choice here.

Mehra, Divya, (2014), There are Greater Tragedies. Photo sadly not taken during an opportune wind. Photo credit: Sadie MacDonald. 

Mehra’s other pieces in this series are inside the gallery space and feature images of capitalized purple text, disjointed so as to fit within a square canvas space. The visual discomfort is highlighted by the juxtaposition of the words and their designated title in the label. The piece which proclaims “I WILL WORK HARD TO MAKE YOU FEEL COM-FORTABLE” is entitled You Made Me; in this light, the word "made" brings up disconcerting double meanings. Mehra’s work speaks to the pressures of identity politics and assimilation.

This pressure is echoed elsewhere in the gallery by other artists. Brendan Fernandes uses a troubling video in Standing Leg to depict his attempts at conforming his feet to European dancing standards. His piece shows the physical and emotional toll of trying to fit an imposed ideal.

Fernandes, Brendan, (2014), Standing Leg. The video was silent except for Fernandes's pained breathing. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.

The conflicts that arise from leaving and attempting to belong permeate the exhibition. I found the works by Julius Poncelet Manapul and Esmond Lee particularly heartbreaking. Balikbayan Bakla Maya, Manapul’s sculpture, floats lightly in the gallery but is heavy with tense meaning as the artist navigates his identity as a gay Filipino immigrant. This piece uses a variety of materials such as a balikbayan box, gay pornography, and Manapul's own fingernail clippings. Lee exhibits photographs of his family’s new suburban home in Between Us. In these photos, the house, despite its symbolization of success and security, reveals evidence of the family’s discomfort and internal distance within its walls.

Manapul, Julius Poncelet, (2016), Balikbayan Bakla Maya. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald

Difficult themes of disconnect and displacement show up frequently in Yonder, but the artists also explore connection and continuity within their works. Past and Present II by Zinnia Naqvi compares side-by-side photos of immigrant parents in their country of origin next to videos or photos of their children in Canada. The outfits worn by each parent and child are deliberately mirrored, and sometimes only the aged quality of the parent’s photograph indicates which one is the original and which is the replicated pose. However, the change of location demonstrated in the photographs opens a visual dialogue, which is further emphasized by having some family members face each other and by changing the genders of some of the echoed subjects. Naqvi's work is a subdued collection that manages to be both playful and reflective.





Other featured artists whose work is exhibited in Yonder are Sarindar Dhaliwal, Rafael Goldchain, Jérôme Havre, Luis Jacob, Sanaz and Mani Mazinani, José Luis Torres, 2Fik, Blue Republic, Diana Yoo, Jinny Yu, and Z’otz* Collective. Every piece in this exhibition is fascinating, and together they create a poignant narrative of the multifaceted complications that arise from “reaching for a yonder home.” I would love to talk about every installation in this exhibition, but I will refrain and instead suggest that you see it for yourself. Curator Matthew Brower offered us MMST students a tour of this exhibition, and I am glad I took the opportunity. These stories stuck with me.


Yonder just finished its run at the Koffler Gallery, but it will be exhibited at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery in January. 

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