It’s as if the wide world were convening in Vancouver this spring—at least through the visual arts. Local, national, and international artists draw interest and inspiration from the multitude of peoples, places, and cultures that we, as a society, are composed of. They also take on some of the most pressing and universal issues of our day, making the personal political—and vice versa. That so many upcoming exhibitions at public galleries and artist-run centres are photo-based is testament to the ongoing success of the Capture Photography Festival, which runs again in April this year.
Don Hutchinson and Ying-yueh Chuang: Passages
At the Surrey Art Gallery to June 14
The late Don Hutchinson, who started his long career as a production potter, developed into a ceramic sculptor whose often whimsical work drew inspiration from the natural world, his extensive travels, and the ancient cultures of Europe and Asia. Ying-Yueh Chuang, who arrived in Canada in the 1990s from her birthplace, Taiwan, expresses her sense of cultural hybridity by sculpting exquisitely complex, multicomponent ceramic works that improvise on natural forms. These may range from seedpods to sea anemones, and from calla lilies to crab claws.
The Draw: Passages is a great title for this inspired pairing, which brings journeys and cultures together through the surprisingly versatile medium of ceramics.
Lyse Lemieux: No Fixed Abode
At the SFU Gallery to May 7
This acclaimed Vancouver artist confounds our notions of what drawing might be, erasing distinctions between subject and object, figuration and abstraction, two dimensions and three. She also messes creatively with traditional drawing media and unexpected materials such as fabric and fur. The title of her exhibition alludes to a Franz Kafka short story in which a formless and elusive entity called Odradek lurks everywhere and lives nowhere. Lemieux spins the tale into works of both spatial and narrative ambiguity, through wall-mounted drawings, executed in oil stick and felt, and “bundles” composed of found and treasured textiles.
The Draw: Lemieux goes from strength to strength with this powerful follow-up to her smashing show of painted drawings at Wil Aballe Art Projects last summer.
Pao Houa Her: Emplotment
At the Or Gallery from March 28 to May 16
Through her scent-based installation at the Or and photographs in the gallery’s front window linked to those in transit shelters throughout Vancouver, Hmong-American artist Pao Houa Her examines the idea of tebchaw, or “land place”, cherished by the diasporic Hmong people. As a minority, the Hmong have suffered persecution in southern China and southeast Asia, and their alignment with the losing side during the Vietnam War and related conficts did not help their situation. Her, who was born in Laos in 1980 and fled with her family to the U.S. through refugee camps in Thailand, is acclaimed for portrait and still-life photographs that speak to Hmong history and culture.
The Draw: Remember Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino, in which an old white guy saves the day for his Hmong neighbours? Well, Her creates work from inside the Hmong-American experience. The day is Her’s to save.
Gohar Dashti: Dissonance
At the West Vancouver Art Museum from March 18 to May 9
Tehran-based photographer and video artist Gohar Dashti references themes of home and sanctuary to remind us of the plight of our planet’s millions of refugees. Her photographs document attempts by the displaced and dispossessed to create living spaces within inhospitable landscapes. Dashti also shoots images of plants invading and overtaking crumbling domestic environments that have been abandoned by their occupants. Born in Iran near the border with Iraq, Dashti frequently draws on childhood memories of the eight-year war between those two countries.
The Draw: With images pouring in daily of civilians fleeing the civil war in Syria—and with the world’s stateless people numbering some 12 million—Dashti’s subjects could not be more relevant.
Anna Binta Diallo: Wanderings
At the Access Gallery from April 4 to May 30 and the Waterfront Canada Line Station from April 1 to September 1
Anna Binta Diallo, who was born in Dakar, Senegal, grew up in St. Boniface, Manitoba, and is based in Montreal, has created an immersive exhibition of photographic collages that draw on folk stories and a wide range of image sources to, as she says in her statement, “create new mythologies”. Her art uses the folkloric to grapple with identity and come to an understanding of community while also disrupting and inverting colonial narratives.
The Draw: Diallo adapts her installation, first developed during a residency at the Banff Centre, to each new space in which she exhibits. Expect to be both challenged and beguiled.