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Foreign palette: Finding roots

August 08, 2010

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The Mosaic Festival of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada is the largest festival in North America that celebrates the vibrant art, culture and heritage of South Asia. This year, in its fifth year, the Telus Mosaic Festival has been relocated to an alternate space due to the ongoing construction in the Mississauga Civic Square, where it has been held in previous years.

The subject of 'Dislocation' has been experienced first-hand by everyone taking part in the festival. Of particular note is a group of 10 leading contemporary artists originating from South Asia, who presented their personal perspectives on the significance of dislocation. Having experienced it in some way, the social, cultural, economic and religious implications of changing locations can be painful and rewarding. Each artist spoke of his/her experiences and artistic journey through their chosen medium and creation.

Tazeen Qayyum's 'Avoid extreme cold' has multiple layers of meaning. It borrows the language of entomology museums to look at how research and archival practices parallel the political practices of investigating and classifying unfamiliar cultures. This work is based on a text from scientific research on species of cockroaches found in North America. The research focused on the survival and life pattern of the insect in extremely cold weather conditions. Qayyum used the muse humorously and sarcastically to comment on the many challenges, obstacles and changes an immigrant—particularly the South Asian immigrant—has to overcome to feel settled in the new land.

Sumaira Tazeen's three-dimensional miniature painting titled, 'Guzishta sai paiwasta', is about recalling and rejuvenating the old symbol of the peti (dowry trunk). She uses the peti or a trunk as a symbol of displacement of a girl who moves from one house to another, physically as well as mentally. In this migration, especially in South Asian cultures, the trunk becomes the connection between the two families, and also a symbol of pride and status.

Reeta Saeed's new body of work, 'Dislocation' uses flags from Pakistan and Canada as iconic material to show gradual assimilation and integration. Saeed meticulously removed one thread at a time from the Pakistani flag to show the Canadian colours. The mixing of colours is used as a metaphor for integration, tolerance and diversity as key ingredients for nation building.

Faisal Anwar's art practice explores fictional, socio-political and edutainment narratives. His video installation, 'Re-place' is a monologue of eight Pakistanis now living in Toronto, talking about their neighbourhoods in Pakistan. This video examines the nostalgia of immigrants when they talk about their home country.

Amin Rehman is a leading proponent of contemporary art in Toronto and has been working in many disciplines, with various media since the early 1980s. His work is bold and striking to say the least. His research is detailed and compelling, and his subject is complex and socio-politically charged. 'My age and the age of army rule in my country are the same' is an installation piece in Vinyl that is directed at the non-democratic governance of Pakistan since independence, and the extensive military rule that caused irreversible damage to its social, cultural and political fabric.

Annandi Merhai's relationship with photographic technology is prevalent within her work. She uses the medium at first to illustrate a form of cultural research, investigating a love for Bollywood. Merhai restaged a series of four images to recreate a displacement in time, depicting her feelings and emotions through a crime scene, as she searches for an understanding of Indian ethics, values and awareness.

With disengagement and reconstruction as primary areas of interest, Hayat Gul has been experimenting with different mediums. She believes language is an essential tool for existence and frequently works with the written word (Urdu calligraphy) in her art. She chose to explore the changing identities of four South Asian women.

Debashis Sinha's 'The white dog' is a single-channel video commissioned by the 2009 International Symposium on Electronic Art. The audiovisual is culled from a large archive of sound and video that Sinha has been collecting during trips to Kolkata since the 1990s. It illustrates the mindset of the diasporic citizen on multiple levels.

Prince Varughese Thomas incorporates a variety of visual techniques into his work. 'Interstitial spaces' is a series of still images and video that attempts to convey cultural negotiations of individuals from hybrid backgrounds. Thomas has chosen television white noise as a metaphor where information and misinformation is transferred and transposed globally to 'other' groups in a cultural exchange that is only limited by the ownership to the means for access.

Vishal Misra's work, titled, 'Cultural ties', depicts the bonds one creates through travels. Misra's mixed media on canvas portrays these varied experiences, emotions and events from his unique perspective. His figurative work is greatly influenced by cubism and draws its inspiration, in terms of its line and form from the great Indian master M. F. Husain.