UBCO MFA Exhibition held at the Lake Country Art Gallery.
Through my artistic practice, I delve into the natural world and our connection to it. The unbridled desire of humans to succeed and advance has disrupted the essential tenet of coexistence between the realms of humanity and the natural world, causing an imbalance that has led to ecological catastrophes and environmental calamities.
Using Indo-Persian miniature painting methods that originated in the 16th century as a starting point, my artistic practice involves re-envisioning these techniques with modern imagery and cross-cultural concerns to subvert conventional expectations. My work repurposes accounts of calamities and past events into significant and relatable visuals, blending the cultures of both the East and the West. I explore ideas expressed by Jalaluddin Rumi and Jeanette Armstrong in their poetry that advocate the importance of balance and equality of all living forms as a way to move forward towards a more harmonious and sustainable future.
By combining Eastern traditional painting techniques of using handmade materials such as wasli (paper), qalam (brush), and paints made from North American indigenous knowledge of natural pigments (Beam paints), with contemporary environmental concerns, the artwork conveys a multifaceted and intricate significance. The change in size from the expansive multi-screen digital animation to the smaller-scale paintings deepens our comprehension of the precarious interdependence between humans and the environment we inhabit.
It has been approximately a year since I first met Nasim Pirhadi and Heraa Kahn, two talented artists immersed in the early stages of their MFA Program. Over time, I witnessed their artistic processes unfold, filled with inquiries, contemplations, and extensive research, gradually shaping their works into remarkable presentations.
For this year’s UBCO MFA Exhibition, the Lake Country Art Gallery has been divided into two distinct exhibition spaces. The first space showcases Heraa Kahn’s collection of miniature paintings, delicately arranged on the gallery walls, gently illuminated to highlight each individual piece. Through these paintings, Kahn invites viewers into a contemplative journey exploring themes of the natural world, human interactions, and the ensuing climate crisis. The exhibition, titled ‘I Died as a Mineral,’ draws inspiration from Rumi’s poem of the same name, perhaps symbolizing the cycle of life and incorporating materials that mirror this connection. Kahn’s intricate paintings serve as cautionary tales, offering viewers profound insights, meanings, and interpretations of Rumi’s poem.
While standing amidst Kahn’s exhibition, one’s attention is drawn to a small archway that leads to another space at the rear of the gallery. Passing through, visitors enter Nasim Pirhadi’s installation titled ‘Zoorkhaneh,’ which translates to ‘House of Strength’—a traditional gymnasium for men. Pirhadi has ingeniously transformed the room into an immersive installation, combining video, photography, sounds, scents, and exercise-related objects. The air is filled with the sweet fragrance of sugar and rose water. Traditionally reserved for men, the wooden equipment within the space is now open to all, as Pirhadi invites diverse participation in this exhibition. Notably, Pirhadi has recreated the apparatuses using sugar, imbuing the piece with a sense of heightened weight and transparency—an innovative reinterpretation of traditional beliefs and values concerning women’s rights, human rights, and societal roles.
For five days, I observed Heraa Kahn and Nasim Pirhadi meticulously navigate the gallery space, constructing walls, selecting paint colours, contemplating support structures, lighting arrangements, soundscapes, and strategic placement of their works. Every decision was made with utmost care, thoughtfulness, and thorough consideration, leaving no aspect to chance. Their unwavering commitment and hard work was admirable.
In these tumultuous times we find ourselves in, these exhibitions hold tremendous significance, encouraging us to stay informed about global affairs. The gallery has produced two exhibition catalogues, one for each artist, to showcase their thesis works. The presence of Heraa Kahn and Nasim Pirhadi’s art within the Lake Country Art Gallery is a true privilege for us—the gallery, the Lake Country community, and all those who have the opportunity to engage with their remarkable work.
Curator, Lake Country Art Gallery