Ismaili Muslim artists draw on the past and present

Creating art as a vehicle for communication to help transcend boundaries is the focus of the contemporary art exhibition presented by local Ismaili Muslim artists in Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (Nov. 23–Dec. 1). The show, Odyssey: Past Meets Present, features 15 artists who explore, in their art works, how their past influences their present. While they are all local artists, they have diverse backgrounds and roots in countries like Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Switzerland.

I asked the artists to look into their past and find out what influences them today and how that shows up in their art work,” says Taslim Samji, the exhibition’s curator.

It resulted in a huge variety of topics, ranging from common themes in history like love, lust and creed to artists reviewing political conditions, such as injustice done to women.

Personal motifs can be found in the art works as well, such as the pieces from an Afghan artist who draws portraits of young children and people from his home country.

“That’s very nostalgic to him. It’s what he remembers and what he holds on to as an artist,” explains Samji, who came to Canada at the age of three from Tanzania.

Interdisciplinary artworks

Taslim Samji (right). | Photo courtesy of Taslim Samji

Taslim Samji (right). | Photo courtesy of Taslim Samji

The group of artists, a balanced split of male and female, emerging or professional, includes individuals from all age ranges (from 17 to over 70). Samji said some artists created a series of pieces.

“One piece doesn’t really reflect the work of an artist,” she says, adding each artist has one wall for art works. “Only when you see a series of works, you might start to see the artist’s influences.”

Samji started her own career with paintings, and moved on to drawings and illustrations. At the moment she is taking a class on animation at Emily Carr University of Art and Design to reduce the limits other art media impose.

“Each medium I worked is limited in the way you can tell a story. In animation, you can mix it all together,” says Samji. “An artist needs to have that digital knowledge.”

Thanks to the diversity of the artists, Samji anticipates the exhibition to connect with all kinds of people. Since the exhibition takes place in Yaletown, the curator expects many Vancouverites living in the downtown area to visit the show, as well as people from within the Ismaili community.

“We also promote it within the community and they will for sure come to support us, too,” she says.

Odyssey: Past Meets Present is Samji’s second community exhibition as a curator in the Roundhouse Community Centre after Intersections in 2013. While some of the artists from back then are the same as in “Odyssey,” Samji explains it was her goal to find new artists for the 2015 exhibition, which is why two-thirds of the participants are new.

“I want this community of artists to grow,” says Samji, who hopes the artists will connect among each other and possibly collaborate in the future.

Art creates understanding

Tabla Lady by Taslim Samji. | Photo courtesy of Taslim Samji

Tabla Lady by Taslim Samji. | Photo courtesy of Taslim Samji

The pieces of the interdisciplinary exhibition include digital media, short film, painting, sculpture, pottery, and more.

“So many themes that come up in the art of the Ismaili Muslims are also common to other communities,” she says. “Like gender bias, love, political conditions. All are common around the globe.”

She hopes to show that communality can be found even within diversity and to create understanding among different communities.

“When we don’t understand people that’s when they feel foreign to us and there is fear,” she says, adding she wishes to build bridges between communities.

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