Left to right, Three Echoes artists Sorour Abdollahi, Devora and Sidi Schaffer. Their exhibit, Hope and Transformation, is at Amelia Douglas Gallery until Feb. 29. (photo from Three Echoes)
Connected by similar values and inspirations in their creative work and in their lives more generally, Sidi Schaffer, Sorour Abdollahi and Devora are longtime friends. Their fifth exhibit together – as the informal collective Three Echoes – is called Hope and Transformation. It is at the Amelia Douglas Gallery at Douglas College in New Westminster until Feb. 29.
“Art transcends the limitations of time, space, language and cultural background,” said Devora in her written remarks, prepared for the exhibit’s opening Jan. 16, which was postponed because of the snow, and given Jan. 21. “The echoes from within spill over onto the canvases,” she said. “Together, our works create a dialogue of hope and transformation.”
Devora told the Independent that the name for the exhibit came “through talk and discussion between the three of us in reflecting on our individual and collective journeys and where we found ourselves, and the world, at that moment.”
“Today, there is a lot of anxiety about globalization and migration,” Abdollahi said. “As an immigrant artist, my art deals with connections between cultures and hybridity. Therefore, my works might help serve as a bridge and tell the immigrant story.”
Abdollahi was born and raised in Iran, where she graduated with a diploma in Persian literature from Yazd University and a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Art in Tehran. In Vancouver, where she settled 20 years ago, she studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She writes in the exhibit catalogue that her Iranian heritage and Canadian experience “have had a tremendous influence on my works’ subject matter, dealing with the mediation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East.”
The artist uses collage, a multi-layering technique and mixed media. “My works show the relationship between culture and environment and migration,” Abdollahi explained to the Independent. “Our environments are changing both internally in our mind and externally, and my works illustrate this change. My works create negotiation between different cultures and societies.”
Schaffer also started her fine arts education in her birth country, Romania. In Israel, she received a degree in art education and taught in the school system for more than a decade. When she came to Canada in 1975, she studied at the University of Alberta, where she majored in printmaking and painting. Initially focused on abstraction, her work has become “more integrated, combining abstract and figurative forms,” she writes in the catalogue. “Now I am continually exploring new possibilities with mixed media, a combination of print, drawing, painting and collage. Important for me is the visual poetry, the relationship of form, space, colour and light. Some of my works in this show are a combination of collages of different things from nature and painting; others are collages of my own imagination.”
“I am an optimist and also I am amazed about the continuous transformation in nature around me,” Schaffer told the Independent. “I combined my love and respect for the beauty of flowers and leaves, surrounding them with hope, and new imaginary landscapes. In a way, I give the dry flowers a new life, bringing them out from the pages of old books.”
As for Devora, she told the JI, “What gives me hope is my relationship with the Divine – that there is no separation, that we are all connected and made of stardust, that we are all on an unfolding journey of being together. I attempt to express that emotion onto the canvas.”
For Devora, art has the power to transform the viewer when the viewer can hear her work speak to them from their own experience. “At the opening,” she said, “the Douglas College students from two classes – one poetry class and one art history class – gathered around and engaged with all three of our works, asking questions, wanting to understand the process, the intention and how they could relate from their own lives to what they were seeing.”
Normally, only the art history students attend each artist talk. However, after Devora shared that the Zack Gallery at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver hosts Pandora’s Collective poetry nights, where members of the collective create works inspired by the art, the Amelia Douglas Gallery invited the poetry class, as well.
Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., where she earned a master’s at California School of Professional Psychology, Deborah Ross does all of her creative work under her maternal grandmother’s name, Devora, in honour of her grandmother, who was murdered in the Holocaust. “Her spirit gives me the strength and confidence to create,” said the artist in her remarks for the exhibit.
Devora, who now lives both in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island, came to Canada in 1993. She has studied art at Emily Carr, Langara College and elsewhere. “My artwork reflects the love I have for the creative process and exploration,” she writes in the exhibit catalogue. “I am fascinated by the inner world of emotion, dream, metaphor and story and strive to illuminate both the universal and personal by bringing them onto the canvas.
“My latest works explore the interplay and continuum between abstract and representational images of landscapes and figure, and a fascination with the surreal, in mixed media combining acrylic and collage.”
In her remarks for the exhibit opening, Devora explained, “My art reflects a search for understanding and clarity about my personal and ancestral history and the world. My experiences inform my work as I go inside and bring them onto the canvas. I endeavour to transform darkness into the light of hope. I am interested in what is hidden and how it informs what is revealed.”
She noted that she, Abdollahi and Schaffer “turned to esthetics as a way to focus and navigate our journey.” And she expanded on this concept. “Through the lens of esthetics combined with the common immigrant experience and effects of war and displacement,” she said, “the three of us have managed to bridge all other divides: language, ethnicity, culture, religion and country of origin. Our childhood environments and experiences could not have been more different on the surface and yet the foundations of connection and similarity were already being laid down, established through the development of the lens of sensitivity to beauty in the world and compassion for the human experience.
“Our ideal, of different cultures living in harmony, is reflected in our own personal experiences, in which intimate exposure to the world of ‘the other,’ unearths commonalities and gives rise to a greater depth of understanding about our own lives.”
She concluded, “In closing, I would like to quote Sorour, as Sidi and I feel that her words speak for all three of us: ‘In my friendship and collaboration with Sidi and Deborah, I see an opportunity to explore and express my own culture, but also to relate these themes to other cultural experiences – recognizing the echoes of each other in our works and our lives. My works side by side those of my friends’ works create a dialogue and negotiation which hopefully provides the viewer with a different vision of the world – one which is borderless, free and peaceful.’”