“Wink Wink – Whatcha Looking At?” by Shira Gold.
Shira Gold’s photographs seem to create a break in the space-time continuum. For a moment, the busyness and noise of the world fades away, and the viewer is standing on a beach watching the light and shadows of the clouds over the ocean, or in a snowy field, inhaling the crisp, cool air. A quiet contentment, a sombre joy.
Gold is one of some 30 artists joining the West of Main Art Walk for the first time this year. More than 60 artists will open their homes or studios to the public over the Mother’s Day weekend, May 11-12. Several other Jewish community members are also participating, including Michael Abelman, Olga Campbell, Pnina Granirer, Lauren Morris and Rae Maté, some of whom have been involved from the beginning in what used to be called Artists in Our Midst – Granirer co-founded the walk with Anne Adams in 1993.
“Crissy Arseneau and I were invited to join in by our All Together Collective partner painter Amy Stewart,” Gold told the Independent. “We are reuniting at Amy’s studio on Granville Island for the weekend of the walk. I chose to participate because showing locally is something that is important to me. The walk is a unique way to see the immense talent of creators that live in our city. The types of work being shown will be so diverse, crossing many mediums, and the artists vary from emerging to seasoned Vancouver talent. I also love the idea of being able to visit artists in the spaces they create their work in.”
While there is a preview exhibit and sale on May 9 at the Roundhouse Community Centre, with donated artwork being sold to raise money for Coast Mental Health’s art programs, some artists are raising money for other projects over the weekend. Granirer, for example, is offering her works at 50% off as a fundraiser for Stand Up for Mental Health, which was started by her son, David Granirer, to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, among other things. Gold will be selling her fabric-based prints May 11-12, with proceeds going to the Children’s Arts Umbrella Foundation in honour of her mother, Melanie, z’l, “paying tribute to her work in helping shape the school in its early years.”
Growing up, Gold took classes in various visual and performing arts at Arts Umbrella. “I was introduced to photography at Arts Umbrella in my early teens, when they began courses in film photography and darkroom,” she said. “As a child, words and pencils often failed me. Capturing and making images was a way for me to express my view of the world. Having a camera in hand changed the trajectory of my life.”
However, Gold said, “I pushed pause on photography for several years and turned my attention towards fashion design. I worked in design and manufacturing in Montreal, which ended abruptly when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I took on the role as her caregiver for three years, until her passing. During that time, she and I began to recognize the immense need for patients and caregivers to learn how to engender support around their illnesses, learn advocating strategies and engage in mind/body medical tools to help support a positive mindset through health challenges. We began to develop offerings to meet these needs.
“My mom passed away before this was fully realized. Along with my husband, I gleaned the knowledge through personal experience, as well as course work at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard’s continuing medical classes … to write and complete a workbook/guidebook entitled Choosing Joy’s Empowerment Index. Not long after completing the book, I became pregnant with my first child. It was a time of great introspection. I began to recognize that the pursuit of Choosing Joy was a way for me to keep my mom’s memory alive and not a personal pursuit and decided to change paths. We chose to donate the books created to nonprofits that could share them with people in need.”
About her choice of a new path, Gold said, “Care-giving, grief, new motherhood – those collective experiences reshaped my outlook on how I chose to spend my days and I was ready to begin to deconstruct and share my experiences with others in the hopes of creative dialogue around common issues of struggle and transition. I started my first major body of work – ‘Reflect, Transform, Become’ – as I was preparing to welcome my second child.
“Shot over several years, taking a handful more to complete, the series of 18 women documents the trials and metamorphoses that come with new motherhood, as well as the challenges of experiencing new life without my mother in it,” she said. “This reclaiming of my visual voice shaped my identity as I settled into motherhood. The release of this work was a turning point in my life.”
“Reflect, Transform, Become” has been recognized with honourable mentions from the International Photography Awards and the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. Her series “Good Grief,” which she describes as “a visual dissertation of my grief journey,” has had selections shown in Italy, Greece, the United States and here in Vancouver. Locals will recognize many of the places Gold has photographed.
“In fact,” she said, “the majority of my work is shot within 10 minutes from my children’s school. Some may perceive the limitations of time and spaces as prohibitive to their creative process, but I like to look at it as an advantage. My reality creates parameters which have enabled me to hone my eye and find moments that are meaningful to me, often minute and fleeting.”
As for the ways in which Judaism or Jewish community influence her approach, Gold said, “I think our culture, our religion, encourages reflection – personal reflection, reflection of our people and their struggles. There are built-in meditative moments in our prayers, in our holidays, in our services, to give us space to look inward. To learn and to digest our past and what has been is a large component of my work. As Jewish people, we actively choose in our times of joy to remember our hardships and, in our times of hardship, to find joy – I am mindful of this as I work and in life.”
In her artist’s statement, Gold writes, “I create portraits rich with emotion, conveying moments saturated by our struggles with grief, identity and change.” But what about the quiet joy that those portraits also convey?
“You are absolutely right,” she acknowledged, “there is pause (stillness) and calm in my imagery. It is intentional; as one who lives my days with a busy mind, there are few things that create pause and reflection. I also have found that, in my grief journey, my mind had made space for pause, for reflection and my world felt very desaturated and vacuous. Those moments were translated in my imagery through the various series documenting my pathways through this terribly difficult process of loss.
“I have been largely directed over the last decade by lyrics of a song by the band Frou Frou – ‘There’s Beauty in the Breakdown.’ Here is a little selection from the song: ‘So let go / And jump in / Oh well whatcha waiting for / It’s all right / ’Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown / (So let go) yeah let go / And just get in / Oh it’s so amazing here / It’s all right / ’Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.’
“Sometimes, in the deep struggles and darkest moments, beauty abounds. It may shake us and break us down,” she said, “but, if open to it, there is an incredible opportunity to witness the heights of compassion, love, expectance, transformation, connectedness and joy.”
To see Gold’s work and to inquire about purchases and commissions, visit shiragold.com or @shiragoldphotography on Instagram. For the West of Main Art Walk schedule, a preview of this year’s artists and the studio map, go to artistsinourmidst.com.