Diyan Achjadi: See Girl (March, Girl, March!)

At the Access Artist Run Centre until November 25

At the front of the gallery hangs a cartoon depiction of a little girl in a bright pink dress. She is leaping, not in a game of hopscotch but over a car in flames. Behind her, a stylized city is laid out on a background of pink candy colours: jelly beans, bubble gum, cupcakes—all these juicy hues melting into each other and the unseen horizon. The smoke from the fire is stylized, too, as a series of soap-bubble circles and ovoids. In Diyan Achjadi’s See Girl (March, Girl, March!), real violence is sublimated into its benign, storybook depiction.

Achjadi, who studied art in New York and Montreal and is now based in Vancouver, has dedicated some of her career to investigating gender stereotypes and their perpetuation. She has been interested, especially, in the way prescribed behaviours are embedded in education and popular culture. In the 19th century, that process may have involved the use of primers, the subject of Achjadi’s earlier work. Now, this show demonstrates, language texts, picture books, and other learning tools of elementary education are bolstered by a flood of children’s media, including comics and animated cartoons. The artist’s concern here is the way such forms both camouflage and promote war and violence.

The exhibition consists of six large ink-jet prints and an animated short, all featuring the same little pink-dressed girl. As well, there are miniature depictions of this character cut out of cardboard or vinyl—a tiny goose-stepping army supplied with assault rifles, gas masks, and razor wire. The prints reiterate the format of the cartoon child in front of a cityscape (sometimes based on Vancouver, with its SeaBus terminal, rail yards, and container docks). Seductive sweetness is painted over car bombs, burning buildings, and other tropes of terrorism. The title of each is of the innocuous “See Spot run” variety: Jump, Girl, Jump; Dream, Girl, Dream, and so on.

In one alarming image, the girl holds a hand grenade to her ear, as if it were a cellphone. In another, she stands on an unexploded land mine. In a third (and in the animated short), she picks up the smoking remains of a toy-size car. Children, Achjadi shows us, are as bombarded as adults by propaganda from the culture of fear. Run, girl, run!