Artists explore myths: South Asian culture brings a powerful message to the DMG

Toronto artist Tazeen Qayyum discusses her work before leading a painting demonstration at UTSC's Doris McCarthy Gallery.

Views of the Iraq war, American images in a south Asian style and work representing a full diaspora highlight a new exhibition at the Dores McCarthy Gallery this month.

Urban Myths and Modern Fables is a collection of work by artists of Indian and
Pakistani descent who are living in the West.

“The exhibition is a representation of the south Asian diaspora,” said exhibition curator Haema Sivanesan. “It shows how artists negotiate living outside of their home country”.

Sivanesan is also executive director of the South Asian Visual Arts Collective, which is co-presenting the exhibition.

The artists, who have contributed to this showcase though they share South Asian ancestry, live in very different cultures. Three are Toronto based, while others live in England, Australia, Germany and the US. In spite of the geographical divide, Sivanesan says the work of these artists’ shares many similarities.

“I found it very interesting that across so many countries artists had so many common threads and bonds” said Sivanesan. “Although these artists represent their local cultures through their work, a lot of their concerns are global”.

She cited the conflict in Iraq as one of the major themes of the exhibition.

“Many of these artists are Muslims, and are very concerned with the Iraq War,” she said.

One of the pieces in the exhibition is a collage of body tags from Iraq, submitted by Tazeen Qayyum, an artist born in Lahore, Pakistan who works and lives in Toronto.

Other pieces present similar imagery in the form of dropping bombs and one piece showing a baseball beside a grenade.

“Art like this gives people a fresh view on issues like the war,” said Sivanesan.

Doris McCarthy’s Curatorial assistant Erin Peck sees a lot of exhibitions come through the gallery, but this showcase struck a chord with her.

“The show brought up a lot of issues that I wasn’t comfortable with initially,” said Peck. “Some of it is subject matter I’m not totally familiar with”.

But Peck is still enthusiastic about the collection.

“I think it’s great to have work that’s in here that really means something,”she said. “People can come in and see contemporary culture reflected in art.”

Sivanesan said global conflict wasn’t the only theme of the exhibition.

“We see the contrast in cultures these artists are dealing with,” she said. “There is a visual language that is both contemporary and unique to South Asia.

Powerful images tell stories of the struggles in the middle east and the conflict diasporic cultures have with western influence.Sabeen Raja, a contributor who lives and works in Virginia, draws American landscapes in an abstract, South Asian style.

“Sabeen’s paintings are about how America is exotic to her,” said Sivanesan.

With her exhibition tackling such broad and vivid themes, Sivanesan has ambitious goals.

“I hope to challenge people’s idea of what contemporary south Asian art is,” she said. “I want it to be an idea they can engage with and talk about.”

Urban Myths and Modern Fables opened last Wednesday will run until May 11.