Photo exhibit zooms on intimate stories and histories

Generations speaks of early Sikh labourers. | Photo courtesy of Angela Aujla

Photobase is a diverse and inclusive collection of artists who use old photographs as the groundwork for their practice. A photograph can be read as the truth of a reality, or a reflection of an existence,” says Dona Nabata.

Photobase: Reimagined Memories is an exhibit that involves repurposing old photographs to tell new tales. On display from March 16-21 at the Cityscape Community Art Space, in North Vancouver, the exhibit seeks to describe how stories of love, loss, family history, immigration, addiction and identity are woven together to create a show that explores what family photographs can represent and to provide a glimpse into our neighbours, friends and strangers lives.

“We really liked the concept of looking at family photographs in this digital age from a new prospective,” says Nancy Cottingham Powell, executive director of the North Vancouver Community Arts Council.

Using photography, digital images, collage and assemblages, photo transfers and mixed media installations, the exhibit will feature the work of two dozen artists, each of whom has their own story to tell based on their personal experience.

“We made the show an open call and made many different points of view into the show,” says Cottingham Powell.

Meet some of the photographers

Angela Aujla will be exhibiting two family photos, Generations and Redrawn Frontiers. | Photo courtesy of Angela Aujla

Born and raised in Vancouver, Nabata will be telling the story of Japanese Internment during World War II and its impact on her family. She tells this story using old photographs taken by her family during this period, which she later found in her grandmother’s and father’s photo albums. She believes that a 2 x 2 photograph can be re-conceptualized and repurposed, so its meaning is magnified and enhanced into something that is more powerful and which resonates more with the wider public than the original artifact.

“In Photobase, the artist occupies the space between the old photograph and the meaning it conveys in the contemporary world. The use of old photographs and the manipulation of them is the unifying factor of the show,” she says.

Angela Aujla, who grew up in Coquitlam and is a sociology and cultural studies professor, became a professional artist in 2015.

“Old photographs are mediated by time and place: what was recorded and what was not; what survives and what is absent; what becomes material for the artist in Photobase and what is left out,” she says. “The Photobase exhibit is meaningful to me because it gives me a chance to own my own narrative.”

Aujla has two pieces in the exhibit, Generations (2016) and Redrawn Frontiers (2016). Generations incorporates an archival photograph of early Sikh labourers who came to B.C. to work as loggers with a photograph that her son had taken at Cates Park. Of particular note is that her son’s great great grandfather was one of those early Sikh pioneers in the photograph.

“This piece draws the two generations together and underlines the history that made the present possible,” Angela Aujla.

Similarly, Redrawn Frontiers has a familial connection for Aujla. She used a photo of her grandmother and great aunt in a digital collage and a digital painting alongside a French colonial map of India. For Aujla this piece highlights the perseverance of immigrant women and the challenges they faced from colonial rule.

“In these old photos, the story is told in their eyes, and I wanted to share their power and resolve,” says Aujula. “I hope people are touched by the stories being told and are also inspired to want to understand and tell their own family’s story.”

Nabata, Aujla and Cottingham Powell hope that this exhibit encourages members of the public to see their own family in a new way. They also want it to encourage more communication and a greater understanding of people that have been historically marginalized.

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