Leaning into the nighttime

Dreams connect us to the past and to the future, says Emily Dundas Oke. Oke, curator for the Burnaby Art Gallery, says dreaming can be a collective and powerful pursuit, giving us insights into the collective psyches of our communities and connecting us with our ancestors. Dream Marrow, the exhibit currently at the Burnaby Art Gallery, runs until Jan. 22, 2023.

“For too long, we saw dreams as the most private things we can do,” says Oke. “So much so that they are not even revealed to our very selves sometimes.”

With a focus on dreams and storytelling, Dream Marrow encourages visitors to give more agency to their dreams – and potentially use them as models for how we can think differently about the future.

Dream Marrow displays the works of artists Audie Murray and Hana Amini.

Scheherazade’s Dream. | Photo courtesy of Emily Dundas Oke

A new framework of time

Oke says it is a Western notion that dreaming is an individual, isolated and secretive act – a concept that was particularly popularized by Sigmund Freud.

The exhibition, however, challenges visitors to think of dreams that can ensue collectively. Can we dream for another, as another, with another? Can we share our dreams with others, and consider this act of sacred storytelling as an endeavor to connect and liberate?

“I wanted to pull on my experience throughout the pandemic, and those of many others around me, which was of isolation and anxiety-inducing dreams,” says Oke, when speaking about the process in which she curated Dream Marrow. “As I myself was lonely, I wanted to offer viewers the notions of community and collectivity in dreaming through the work of Hana and Audie.”

Giving agency to dreams

Beyond presenting a way to connect, share and understand one another, Dream Marrow also focuses on the ability of dreams to give us the power to seek sovereignty in the face of various forms of oppression. This is explored in the works of both Michif artist Murray, who explores dreaming as a route to connect with her ancestors; and Sri Lankan-raised Amani, who draws on mythologies and traditions of literature such as Arabian Nights (also known as One Thousand and One Nights) through the lens of women resisting violence.

“When we dream, a new framework of time opens up,” says Oke. “This is a theme that Audie Murray carries in her work. For Indigenous communities, who have faced so much dispossession already – dispossession of land, dispossession of even their own image – dreams are something that can be kept for themselves.

“When we dream, that’s time for ourselves, and, in Audie’s work, it’s time to connect with ancestors. For her, dreaming and other liminal spaces and times can connect us with ancestors past or future.”

On the other hand, Amini’s work explores a new framework of time, as well as female empowerment and resistance, through the life of Scheherazade in Arabian Nights – a story in which the character uses the power of storytelling to open up many different worlds and end the cycle of a cruel sultan killing a young woman each and every day.

“In her work, Hana proposes that the only place Scheherazade could get these stories, that not only saved her own life but the lives of all the women, who otherwise would have been murdered, were from her dreams,” says Oke.

Through her amazingly intricate etchings, Amini allows us to see Scheherazade as a famed, feminist storyteller with dreams as a source of her incredible power.

Visitors to Dream Marrow are encouraged to explore artworks downstairs, as well as to engage in an interactive space upstairs where they can share their dreams.

“This exhibition is an invitation for visitors to give their dreams some agency and to think of them as models to how we can think differently about the future,” says Oke. “It’s also an invitation to think about what it means to revisit a story, to share it multiple times, to shift a context and to give it more power.”

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