To get a sense of how cultures are mashing at the Indian Summer Festival’s sleek new Pause pavilion in Vanier Park, look to the artwork that will activate the space from next Friday (July 6) to July 15.
Mural maven and fest artist in residence Sandeep Johal has collaborated with Musqueam weaver and artist Debra Sparrow on Starweaver, a goddess figure whose hands reach up to a sky of patterns that spreads across the ceiling. In the design, intricate mandalas meet the bold geometrics of Coastal First Nations art.
Johal, who’s used to working solo, says the central challenge was “How can you bring two different cultural and artistic styles together?”
“It was an interesting project, how to fit these two voices together in a meaningful way and have a conversation together,” she explains, speaking to the Straight during a brief hiatus at her family’s Okanagan cidery and orchard before heading back for the big event.
The common language they eventually found, with artistic director Sirish Rao’s guiding eye, speaks to the sense of harmony Indigenous and South Asian cultures will be aiming for at the free outdoor programming hub over the next few weeks. The striking modular structure was designed by Russia’s Alsu Sadrieva, the winner of an international design competition run by Design Build Research at TED2017. Prefabricated from cross-laminated timber, its unique design features square stools that guests can pull out of its pegboardlike walls. Over the course of the fest—whose fitting motto is Where Worlds Meet—it will play host to everything from mandala workshops to Sufi hip-hop concerts and Indigenous fashion shows.
Through it all, Starweaver will be watching over the action.
Johal says she and Sparrow found that a “call and response” system worked best in creating the installation, resulting in such imagery as Sparrow’s formline hummingbirds feeding from Johal’s ornate, bloomlike mandalas across the ceiling. Similarly, the bright South Asian hues of yellow and red meet the strong black and white of Coast Salish tradition.
“We’re as much alike as we are different,” Sparrow says in a separate phone interview. “This project has lit up for me a different perspective that shines through that middle star,” she adds, referring to the ceiling pattern’s central morning-star image. “I feel we are messengers, with these messages that have been almost forgotten, that we can create beauty again.”
Despite their far-flung cultural roots, the two women soon found common ground. Johal was struck by the similarities of her own rangoli-inspired mandalas to the spinning whorls and medicine wheels of Indigenous art.
“I feel like that circle form is a real cross-cultural motif,” Johal observes. “There’s the patterning as well: her patterns reminded me of the patterns that I had done in my own work. It comes back to the idea that cultures share a lot of archetypes and visual imagery.”
She points out a simple, scrolling border Sparrow created for the work that echoes her own designs. “Those came from our mountain-goat-hair bracelets,” Sparrow reveals, surmising her ancestors were inspired by the furled fronds of young ferns. “They were designed far before contact.”
Still, it may be that the contrast in their styles works as well as their similarities. “Her work is more complex than mine,” Sparrow says. “I like to leave spaces; Northwest Coast art is like that.”
The resulting Pause artwork somehow enlivens ancient traditions with a bold contemporary feel—setting the mood for a gathering space that will house an eclectic, inclusive festival within a festival.
“I want it to be something that everyone can take something away from, that would resonate with everyone,” says Johal, who has designed the stylized goddess logo for this year’s festival and will host a Wisdom Stones rock-painting workshop at Pause on July 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. “It represents our styles individually, but collaboratively as well. You can definitely see the individual styles.”
Here are a few of the highlights to catch at the Pause pavilion in coming weeks:
(Friday [July 6] from 5 to 7 p.m.)
A musical tribute to Coast Salish lands opens the Pause pavilion, with performances by the likes of Lil’wat composer Russell Wallace; Musqueam rapper, MC, and Vancouver poet laureate Christie Lee Charles; and tabla player Amarjeet Singh, with Baljit Singh on dilruba. Indigenous and South Asian food follows.
(July 9 to 13 from noon to 2 p.m.)
Named for the tiered metal lunch carriers used in India, this noonhour series serves up hot vegetarian food on long tables with talks by artists and innovators. Shaheen Nanji, Marika Echachis Swan, and Ammar Mahimwalla debate the role of the museum on July 11; architects like Luugigyoo Patrick Stewart and Marianne Amodio discuss architecture as “an expression of Empathy or Affluence” the next day.
Community mandala workshop
(July 7 from 1 to 4 p.m.)
Artist-educator Sheniz Janmohamed helps you tap nature for inspiration to make the traditional designs.
(July 15 from noon to 4 p.m.)
Taking inspiration from Indian kite-flying fests, decorate and then set your own creation soaring, with the help of experts from the B.C. Kitefliers Association.
See the complete schedule at the Indian Summer Festival website.