When you enter the newest exhibition at Western’s artLAB, you are asked to remove your shoes.
The show “of many worlds in this world,” is meant to push its audience, in more ways than one, its curator says.
It starts with deep reflection on the space in which a visitor stands and how the works of art make them feel, said Ashar Mobeen, a PhD candidate in visual arts and curator of the show. He wants it to be a “transformative experience,” using the artwork to spark moments of dialogue. One piece – a recreation of the Deshkan Ziibiing, or the Thames River, using natural plant materials and rocks drawn from the riverbank – is even laid out across the floor so the audience can walk across and feel it.
“It was about selecting works from these artists that could address themes of race, gender, sexuality, diaspora, while really pushing the limits of what art is and can be,” Mobeen said.
“I’m really trying to get the audience to realize we live in a world that’s made of different worlds. We all occupy a place, a multiverse where we are bringing all these unique perspectives.”
A wide range of works from three artists, all of them studio art professors at Western, is showcased in the exhibition, which runs until June 8.
“We’re just so proud and excited to have these new faculty members here,” Mobeen said.
Soheila Esfahani, MA’10, is one of those featured.
“The exhibition focuses on bringing out different perspectives into thinking about concepts such as identity, placemaking, connections with locations,” she said.
“Even though we are talking about faculty from culturally diverse backgrounds, we all are contemporary artists first and foremost. This is cutting-edge contemporary art. For a place like a university, people definitely should come and see an exhibition like this to get to know what it means to be an artist in today’s time.”
The exhibition was built around artwork from:
Soheila Esfahani: Her art explores cultural transfer, translation and transformation.
“Her recent work questions displacement, dissemination and reinsertion of culture by re-contextualizing culturally specific ornamentation and various collected souvenir type objects. She navigates the terrains of cultural translation by exploring ornamentation as a form of ‘portable culture’ that can be carried across cultures and nations,” Esfahani wrote in her artist statement. Born and raised in Iran, Esfahani moved to Canada in 1992.
Jessica Karuhanga, BFA‘10: Her work tackles “issues of cultural politics of identity and Black diasporic concerns through lens-based technologies, writing, drawing and performances. She explores individual and collective concerns of Black subjectivity,” according to Karuhanga’s website. Karuhanga is a first-generation Canadian artist with British and Ugandan heritage who recently completed a fellowship as Concordia’s spoken web artist/curator in residence.
Sheri Osden Nault: A Metis artist and community activist, Osden Nault creates using sculpture, performance, video, beading, and the revival of Indigenous tattooing practices, among other mediums. “Their work speaks to their experiences as Métis and queer, considering embodied connections between human and non-human beings, land-based relationships and kinship,” Osden Nault wrote on their website. They strive to elevate Indigenous art forms, Two Spirit wisdom, and practices of social and ecological justice.
“To have such a unique group of faculty members be present in our department to offer those various perspectives is wonderful for all of us. We all recognize visual arts is at a really critical juncture at this moment in time with colonial history, race, gender, sexuality at the heart of the scrutiny that surrounds the discipline,” Mobeen said.
“Western as a whole is really committed to changing the first-hand exclusion and imbalanced representation that people like myself, people from a visible minority space, have experienced.”
With Esfahani, Karuhanga and Osden Nault all such distinct and unique artists, it was a difficult undertaking to mesh a variety of work together in one cohesive show, Mobeen said.
“They have such beautiful and varied histories. Their stories and inspiration gave me greater insight, not just into their work, but the general power art has to spark meaningful dialogue,” he said.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that change comes from within. The transformations we must make and the transitions we must adopt are fundamentally systemic. This process has challenged my own assumptions and pre-conceived biases.”
Of many worlds in this world is available to visit at the artLAB in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre, Monday to Friday, 12 to 5 p.m., or until 7 p.m. on Thursdays.