On June 22nd, in a quiet, secluded slice of Cedar Ridge Park, the ninth annual student exhibition facilitated by the Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) and Cedar Ridge Creative Centre opened to the public. The exhibition, Spaces of Conflict and Contemplation features works created by five emerging artists and University of Toronto Scarborough students and curated by Radio FWD Student Director Sofia Suleman Centered around the themes of “self-reflection, hybridity, as well as reflections on elements of light and space,” the works selected for Spaces of Conflict and Contemplation”, range in media, from photography and sculpture, to an interactive exhibit which placed the viewers directly in control of the work. The gallery fused together a diverse selection of artworks from under-represented individuals in the art world, and the intimate setting of Cedar Ridge Creative Centre provided the perfect backdrop for the artworks to converse with one another through underlying and intersectional motifs that communicate ideas, experiences, and events from the past and present that are ever evolving and liminal. A sample of each of the artists’ work is available below, along with excerpts from conversations with the artists and curator Sofia Suleman.
(Photo Credit: Eva Tsai; Pictured L to R: Mortasha Ho Tung Chan, Millan Khurana, Ashley Narine, Bryan Lai)
Intersections by Mortasha Ho Tung Chan (Photo: Eva Tsai)
Mortasha grew up watching her new home change over time.
“[Chinatown] gradually changed from when I first came to Canada… the size of the architecture and more [of a] Chinese population”.
In Intersections, Mortasha displays multiple photographs from the east and west side of Chinatown, from Spadina to Broadview, and was interested in the integration of Chinese culture in the architecture and signage of immigrant businesses. In this photographic tour of the place Mortasha calls home, distinct features of Chinese typography, branding, and architecture are injected into the multicultural backdrop of the city. Mortasha particularly enjoys the photos featuring the red and blue signs, saying “these are very much the classic colours of red and blue, and the fonts of the Chinese words are similar to the style in my hometown.” Peace of Mind by Millan Khurana (Photo: Eva Tsai)
A lonely microphone and flat screen monitor fills the room to the right of the large gallery space. The microphone, rather invitingly, posits the audience to make some noise, it’s practically instinctual. When the microphone detects noise, the brain on the screen scatters, alluding to the theme of Millan’s piece, which aims to comment on the spaces we inhabit in our own heads and are detrimental to our mental health. Millan said, “I just felt like I was in a very conflicted space in my own mind… So I was like, Okay, I feel sometimes when I get overwhelmed with things, maybe from conversations I've had with other people, you know, it's almost as if your brain feels like it's flying all over the place at a million miles an hour. So I was like, okay, if there's some way I can visualize this, I will try and culminate everything I've learned through computer science or studio in part of my film degree as well.” Millan nails this experience, as viewers deftly maneuver through the space, trying to catch a glimpse of the image of a brain without disrupting its presence with noise. (Video: Shawn Gouralnik)
No Name by Ashley Narine (Photo: Shawn Gouralnik)
Ashley Narine’s collection of edited and manipulated photographs, titled No Name, feels like the viewer could’ve found any one of these photos in their basement polaroid collection. There is a cosy, familiar atmosphere that shrouds these works, without knowing who anyone in the photos is. X’d out eyes, hazy development and strange colouring enhances this experience. Ashley, speaking on the meaning behind the collection, said, “It’s an identity piece… it's about that sense of losing yourself, losing a sense of who you are, your identity, and what that feels like how it feels to really realise that you're no longer the character, let alone the main character in your story. And to witness the people around you slowly lose those memories of you with how that happens, I really wanted to focus on how it starts from really the self.” One work that particularly stands out among the rest embeds the viewer into the artwork using a mirror around a cutout of the subject of the photograph (Ashley herself). Ashley said, “you're kind of experiencing what somebody who looks in the mirror and no longer recognizes themselves might experience. And also to give it a little bit more of an interactive element of how you can look at me and see me but I'm looking at me and I can't see myself.” Untitled by Bryan Lai (Photo: Eva Tsai)
It took a moment to connect Bryan Lai’s work, Untitled, to the other artworks in the gallery space, but Bryan confirmed his intention. Byran said, “it’s basically an outsider artwork… I love ambiguous works. I love leaving open ended questions. I love leaving viewers with questions rather than answers… Some people can view it as architectural forms or like, like a map of some sort. I think leaving space for ideas is definitely my goal in my works.” The space the 3-dimensional sculpture occupies in the gallery is commanding. Familiar yet alien forms extend past the canvas and occupy space meant for audience members. The gallery lighting even extends shadows past the canvas, and in the space between Untitled and the rest of the gallery space. Bryan said, “[T]his is an artwork about the relationship of light and shadow. But sometimes unpredictable things can happen. Like that slight chance of like, the light being off centred a little bit or something like that. So you can completely change your view, for example, what if I took this artwork outside and national light, and it would change throughout the day.” Al-Aqsa, Our Home, Our Identity by Mahin Fatima (Photo: Eva Tsai)
While Mahin was unavailable for a conversation about their work, their works’ intention was the most strikingly obvious. Al-Aqsa, a mosque in Jerusalem which was raided by occupying Israeli police in May 2021, became a beacon of identity for Palestinians. It is a space, available to the entire world via videos of police brutality of the May attack, which symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian people to exist peacefully in their homeland. Mahin’s painting, adorned with Palestinian flags, active faces of protestors, and solidarity amongst the crowds, brings light to a different kind of space of contemplation and identity, one which is under threat of annihilation by its occupying force, Israel. Curator Sofia Suleman (Photo: Eva Tsai)
As Sofia’s first curation project, she had a lot of concerns and uncertainty on her mind. “I always knew that curating would be a job that I would want to do in the future, but before it was only in class. But I think when you apply the skills you've learned in an academic setting, it's very different from what it tends to be in a textbook or on a website.” Being around the Cedar Ridge space inspired Sofia to delve further into the themes of space and contemplation. “And so I was worried within the short amount of time that we wouldn't be able to find artists, that we wouldn't be able to find a theme… and I want to respect their work and them as people and artists. So I think that was a challenge. I thought about that, because I was really interested in how some of these works are all similar, even though they're all quite different. They are all different media, different subject matter. But they all talk about spaces, whether their spaces we create in our spaces in our heads, spaces of whom we surround ourselves with, or physical spaces, whether it's a nation, or a place, or an abstract idea, like light.”