Tomoyo Ihaya: Eyes Water Fire
At Art Beatus until November 25
Sameer Farooq and Mirjam Linschooten: White, Steel, Slice, Mask
In the windows of the Contemporary Art Gallery until January 8
Cultural values, human migrations, and an awareness of the less privileged inform two quite different shows in downtown Vancouver. Tomoyo Ihaya’s Eyes Water Fire, at Art Beatus, compresses large themes into small works, including drawings, videos, and a mixed-media installation. White, Steel, Slice, Mask, an exhibition of found objects by collaborating artists Sameer Farooq and Mirjam Linschooten, employs the windows of the Contemporary Art Gallery to address discriminatory museum practices.
Ihaya, who was born in Japan and is based in Vancouver, has made some 16 extended trips to India, especially to the remote northern region of Ladakh, known colloquially as “Little Tibet”. She has spent time, too, with the Tibetan community in exile in Dharamsala and Delhi. Not surprisingly, her art has been profoundly influenced by her experiences abroad and by her personal practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
A number of the small drawings on view, executed in her characteristic style of simplified outlines and delicate washes of colour, relate to her two recent stop-motion videos Eyes Water Fire and Through Water Through. Both videos are seemingly rudimentary in execution, yet they have a strong emotional impact on the viewer. Through Water Through uses the element of water as a metaphor for the cycle of life and death, Ihaya writes in her exhibition statement. Eyes Water Fire contemplates “peace and human dignity”, with particular reference to self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhists.
Her mixed-media installation, which includes drawings made on Japanese paper and also directly on the gallery’s white walls, uses recurring images of water, boats, and watery blue legs to suggest forced migrations of people, over snowy mountains and across wide seas. Immense crowds of eyes, some of them shedding tears, others surrounded by tiny holes burned through the paper, symbolize both prayer and bearing witness. Boats crowded with hapless souls, seen in the installation and in the large drawing Refuge, relate particularly to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar.
By massing and repeating her small, simple visual motifs, Ihaya compounds their impact, creating work of surprising power and complexity.
At the CAG, White, Steel, Slice, Mask engages us more intellectually than emotionally, demanding our heightened consideration of issues of otherness and hierarchical power structures. Canadian artist Farooq, based in Toronto, and Dutch artist Linschooten, based in Paris, frequently collaborate on projects of community engagement and social criticism.
Recently, they have been applying the collecting, categorizing, and display strategies of anthropology museums to challenge our cultural complacencies. One of their CAG commissions has involved making a series of visits to Vancouver and, among other activities (including leading workshops with First Nations youth), purchasing mass-produced cultural objects from import shops throughout the metropolitan region. (A second commission, installed at the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line station, makes use of found retail language rather than found objects.)
The artists have displayed these variously pretty and tacky items—including vases, bowls, teapots, figurines, masks, and clothing—in the CAG’s Nelson Street windows. Not incidentally, the objects conform to stereotypes of East Asian and South Asian cultures and are satirically placed here as representative of large immigrant communities. The intent, it seems, is to challenge the power structures and value judgments embedded in museum practices and to alert us to the ways mainstream society frames minority cultures.
Treating each window as a vitrine, Farooq and Linschooten have fractured and disrupted conventional museum-display techniques, installing what would normally be horizontal shelves in zigzags, cutting objects in half, and mounting old atlases (open to maps of Africa, a continent not otherwise represented here) upside down, right side up, and sideways. In the case of an embroidered red dress, they have awkwardly stretched the garment over a set of square shelves. Dress and display furniture are not at all suited to each other—and that is the point.