Carving cities out of dreams

The Eastside Culture Crawl (ECC) is back with extended dates: Nov. 2–9, 12–15 and 19–22. A virtual crawl is also available for the 2020 edition to make art viewing safer for Vancouverites.

Among the many artists and artisans taking part in this colourful cultural festival, one perfectly represents the soul of the ECC. Sorour Abdollahi uses both her painting and woodcarving skills to capture the essence of her multicultural influences and creativity.

Vasts contrasts

Sorour Abdollahi, gets her inspiration from memories of the past, as well as the new spaces she encounters in Vancouver | Photo courtesy of Sorour Abdollahi

At an early age, Abdollahi was able to express herself through painting with limited materials and experimenting with colours, textures and shapes to create her artistic universe. She often draws her inspiration from various city skylines and architecture that results in either a broody painting or a blast of vivid colours. Her upbringing in Iran, her travels to Europe, and her experience as an immigrant in Canada transform some of her most abstract works into flamboyant and futuristic city landscapes, like a modern Babel myth.

“My interest to paint architecture and urbanism came from growing up in Iran, a country with many old buildings and ancient ruins. A lot of these buildings were juxtaposed by a rapidly modernizing urban landscape, creating vast contrasts,” explains Abdollahi.

Her initial passion was enriched by moving to Canada, where she encountered what she describes as a very different urban environment, particularly one that is changing as rapidly as Vancouver.

Internal landscape

But her work is far from being lifeless depictions of the ruins and skyscrapers she came across on her journey. Her art is a bridge from the memories and cities of her past – one’s own ruins and emotional monuments, one’s childhood city skyline – to the present, which includes daily experiences and life, also by building a mental map of the ruins of tomorrow.

“In many ways my inspiration to paint a built environment intersects with my internal landscape, shaped by memories of places that I have encountered in my present and past. I often feel that places we encounter influence and shape our memories. So I often get my inspiration from both my memories of the past, as well as new spaces that I encounter in my daily life in Vancouver [and during] my travels,“ explains Abdollahi.

Carved out of a dream

Always interested in the interaction between humans and their environment, Abdollahi also mastered the art of woodcarving. Her experience as a woodcarver also manifests in her paintings as they sometimes appear to be city skylines carved out of a dream because of the ‘relief’ and eerie or colourful aspect of some of her works.

“A lot of my paintings also have a relief-like quality with different textures and paint dripping from the canvas. I definitely think my paintings have an emerging aspect to them, as if I’m digging deep in memories to draw them out and in that sense they are carving-like,” shares Abdollahi, who attempts to capture the flux between how the environment shapes memories and personalities and how people, in turn, shape their environment.

Multicultural influences

In cities that have been shaped by modernization, transformed by globalization, and are now changing because of the pandemic, citizens and artists like Abdollahi can only imagine what the world of tomorrow will look like.

“I have realized how fast our urban environment and our own perception of social space can change. I wonder if, in the years to come, I will have memories of this moment that would influence my perception of the city in this time in a particular way,” Abdollahi says.

Vancouverites can always have a peek at more abstract and hopeful landscapes during those rainy days of autumn by stepping through the door of the Mergatroid Building (Studio #230) to see Abdollahi’s work.

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