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Terence Dick
Sanctuary Inter/rupted at Xpace Cultural Centre
March 08, 2018

Canada is a country consisting entirely of narratives of displacement. Whether you’re Indigenous, settler, refugee, or immigrant, you’re relationship to this land is fraught with instability. The real or perceived threat and/or experience of losing your home persists from the past through to the present, and while the state’s attitude to who belongs and who doesn’t hasn’t reached the extremes that it has with our neighbour to the south, we would be remiss to think we are free from either having to move or from benefitting from the forcible relocation of others. Perhaps our sensitivity to this precarity is what makes us more sympathetic to the notion of sanctuaries – places of safety and security.

Noor Khan, before/after, still/here, 2017, mixed media

Mitra Fakhrashrafi and Jessica Kirk, the curatorial duo working under the name Way Past Kennedy Road, begin their essay for the exhibition Sanctuary Inter/rupted (currently on display at Xpace Cultural Centre) by pointing out that the municipal government voted in 2013 to declare Toronto a “sanctuary city.” Despite those good intentions, a report from two years later by No One is Illegal states that the police are providing border services agents with information acquired through carding (and just this week a final consultation investigating the impact of this racially biased policing tactic took place). For the participating artists, this tension between acceptance and rejection is one they negotiate in life and work.

Kaiatanoron Dumoulin Bush and Ryan Rice’s Tkaronto vs. Akwe:kon t-shirt (the Mohawk translation of a popular slogan that big ups the Big Smoke) roots this conflict in colonialism, but the remaining artists reflect a more recent history of having to wrestle with the notion of home within a prevailing culture of white supremacy. sharine taylor contributes a series of photo portraits of her grandmother who left Jamaica and arrived on her own in Canada in 1971. She had to work for a year as a domestic labourer before being able to apply for her infant daughter to join her and even now, decades later, polices her own language, restricting her use of Patois, so as not to expose herself to marginalization.

Noor Khan documents a different history of prejudice through a Photoshopped picture of her young parents taken across the river from the World Trade Centre but time-shifted to appear as if shot on 9/11. The innocence of the original tourist pic is heartbreaking given how far America will go to vilify Muslims in the aftermath of that attack. Over fifteen years later, the emotions tied to the tragedy will be ruthlessly exploited to elect a President whose platform includes explicit bans on Muslims and immigrants.

Samira Warsame, A Search for Hooyo (detail), 2017, photographs

Samira Warsame’s images of young women who, like her, are the children of Somali refugees, appropriates both fashion photography and the art historical tradition of representing the Canadian landscape by placing her glamorous subjects within a backdrop of wintery ravines and suburban apartments. Their authoritative gazes make it clear they have asserted ownership of places that would otherwise consider them alien. Warsame’s work, like everyone else’s in the gallery, is accompanied by a soundtrack contained on an actual cassette tape (I’d forgotten the patience and etiquette required for rewinding and replaying these things) with art by Hamda Warsame. The fluidity and mobility of music has always provided the most dramatic and popular example of bordering crossing as uncontrollable cultural inevitability. The forces that aim to police such movement are powerless before art that reflects and embodies diaspora. Which is not to say the police will relent anytime soon, but to acknowledge the communities that resist dispossession in a city that has for too long been defined by it.

Sanctuary Inter/rupted continues until March 24.
Xpace Cultural Centre:
The gallery is accessible.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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