“Nostalgia” by Lovena Galyide (photo by Olga Livshin)
Community Longing and Belonging, the fifth annual exhibition in celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, is now on at the Zack Gallery.
Curated by Leamore Cohen, coordinator of Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Inclusion Services, the participating artists demonstrate a range of artistic levels, abilities and social affiliations, but they all strive to answer the same questions in their artwork: What does community longing look like? How to find a place to belong in our ever-changing world?
Cohen has been the driving force of this show for five years. For her, an unjuried exhibition is the best way to honour the commitment to remove barriers and celebrate community members’ creativity. If an artist wanted in, they were in, professional artist or amateur, Jewish or non-Jewish, young or old. Cohen stressed that inclusion is the basic principle, and participation is what counts most.
Many artists in the current show have participated in the Inclusion Services exhibit before. Although most of the works on display are paintings, there are also photographs and drawings. There are portraits and landscapes, figurative and abstract imagery. Some items are for sale, while others are not.
Many of the portraits are disturbing in their naked emotional anguish. The faces are jagged or crooked, angular or cubical. One of them is clearly inspired by Picasso, but all of them portray loneliness, a search for belonging.
Most of the abstract images are similarly angry or sad. Very little figurative recognition manifests, but the emotions explode out of the pictures, multiplied by dark colours and sharp lines. They depict the pain of isolation, the desire for acceptance.
Not every work is bleak. Clare Palmer’s photograph “Red Maple” is full of natural serenity, as if the photographer found her community in nature and recommends it to everyone.
Roi Alexander M. Sanchez’s painting with a long and winding title starting with Clean Environment shows a man and a woman cleaning the land, collecting garbage into sacks, together with their friends in the background. The cleaning they are doing is obviously a community event, and the artist emphasizes this with bright colours and cheerful composition. The painting radiates gladness, with a child-like flare. The author seems to say: we clean our home together.
Togetherness also seems to be the main meaning of Aileen Leong’s untitled piece, where two hearts are pierced by one arrow. Connected by this arrow of love, the hearts fly above the mountains on the golden wings of joy.
Lovena Galyide, on the other hand, doesn’t speak of love in either of her two paintings. Both are larger than most of the others in the exhibit. Both feature a single woman. In one, called “Say Yes to Your Open Door,” a girl lifts the curtain of night above her head, allowing in the light of the morning. She welcomes a new beginning and abolishes darkness. The painting thrums with hope. The girl is alone, with her back to viewers, but maybe the new day will bring her a new friend. Or a new love is waiting for her on the sunny side.
Another of Galyide’s paintings is “Nostalgia.” It is less exuberant than the first. The woman in this canvas stands in the rain outside the window of a flower shop. The viewers are “inside,” looking out. All they see is a blurry female silhouette under an umbrella. But, inside the shop, flowers bloom. Is that pensive, lonely woman going to enter? Buy flowers? Or is she just passing down the street? So many stories could start with this painting, all going in different directions. It is up to viewers to finish those stories.
Flowers are also the focus of Sandra Yuen’s “Bias.” This painting is large, and the close-up flowers are accordingly huge and gloriously pink, blooming in splendid isolation on the blue background. The painting is reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s gigantic flowers, capturing the beauty and vastness of nature.
Unlike Yuen’s exposition of colour, another large painting, by Rodrigo Perez Parra, seems composed mostly of melancholy, echoed by its subdued, earthen palette. Its title, “The Dance in the Dream,” reflects its subject: a woman standing thoughtfully beside an open door. Does she dream of a dance in her past? Does she hope to dance again? Where is her partner? Only a hat, hanging beside the door, reminds us about them. Are they coming back? Again, stories abound from this painting, some of which might even have a happy ending.
In the middle of all the images on the gallery walls, two 3-D exhibits stand out. Andrew Jackson’s “Folk Guitar” and “Tree of Life Paddle” are tongue-in-cheek, almost goofy. Both are real-life objects, painted in a distinctive folksy style. The guitar flaunts soaring gulls gobbling fish. The paddle is painted with the Tree of Life. Although the guitar lacks its strings, perhaps the artist considers music our inescapable community. Or sports (for the paddle)?
Another unique item on display is a small clay tablet called “The AHA Community.” The artists who created it belong to the Artists Helping Artists (AHA) collective. The plaque doesn’t list any names, but Cohen said each of the 11 little colourful figures placed on the tablet’s surface, all engaged in different artistic activities, were made by different members of the collective. They are merry self-portraits, making the tablet itself a representative of all the artists in this show.
According to their website, AHA is an art studio collective in Burnaby, where artists of all abilities and skill levels are encouraged to come together to make art – visual art, music, writing, anything goes. The studio provides space, affordable materials and the opportunity to pursue the individual artist’s aspirations. A large percentage of their membership is artists with complex needs.
Like the JCC Inclusion Services, AHA believes that art is a vital element in our lives, and that inclusion is mandatory. Their mandates are congruent – each invites people to share their feelings through art.
The Community Longing and Belonging exhibit runs at the Zack until March 28. To view the flipping book, visit online.flippingbook.com/view/836064016.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].