Sorour Abdollahi’s solo exhibit Intersecting Landscapes is now at Zack Gallery. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Over the years, Iranian-Canadian artist Sorour Abdollahi has participated in several group shows at Zack Gallery, but the current exhibition, Intersecting Landscapes, which opened on Sept. 7, is her first solo show here.
“Sorour is definitely not the first non-Jewish artist with a solo show at the Zack,” said gallery director Hope Forstenzer. For years, the mission of the Zack Gallery, which is in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, has been to showcase Jewish artists and art dedicated to Jewish themes, she said. Non-Jewish artists were not excluded, but they usually appeared in group shows.
“The big difference in the past few years,” said Forstenzer, “has been an expansion of the definition of a Jewish theme to include a wider variety of human universal experiences that reflect on Jewish cultural history and traditions.… Sorour’s work, while not as overtly Jewish as some, addresses the concept of diaspora and its impact on culture and memory. When we made the decision to show her work, it was based on the concept of a cultural nostalgia for home as an inherently Jewish theme. And the response to it, so far, has borne that out – it has had a very strong emotional impact on the community here at the JCC and has already engendered discussion of the Jewish diaspora.”
Abdollahi has been a professional artist all her life. “I’ve always painted, since I was a child,” she told the Independent.
She received her art education in Iran, and her first solo art show happened there in 1987. A successful artist, working in mixed media and acrylics, she regularly exhibited in Iran, participating in multiple group and solo shows in various cities, including Tehran and Isfahan. The only big gap in her exhibiting schedule occurred when she immigrated to Canada. “We came here in 2000,” she said. “We did it for the children.”
Like all immigrants, she struggled with the new language and new culture. “It was several years later, when my children grew older, that I enrolled in Emily Carr [University of Art + Design] part time,” she recalled. “I wanted to become familiar with the local art scene, with the educators and the artists. I wanted to become a part of the local artistic community. And it worked beautifully. My friendships with wonderful Vancouver artists Devora and Sidi Schaffer stem from those days.”
Five years after her immigration, Abdollahi felt immersed enough in the British Columbia art vista to open her own studio and gallery in Yaletown.
“People would pass my gallery on the street, and some would come in,” she said. “They asked questions. I felt that my art connected.”
That connection gave her the courage to join the Eastside Culture Crawl – the biggest visual art festival in Vancouver – 10 years ago.
Abdollahi’s current show at the Zack represents the scope of her art perfectly. It consists of old and new paintings from several different series. A blend of abstract and figurative art, her paintings are airy and bright. Most of them have vague architectural connotations and employ a predominantly blue and green palette reminiscent of spring and rebirth. The abstract forms, sometimes utterly modern, often reveal faint outlines of ruins, shimmering in the mist, in the background.
“I grew up in the land of contradictions, where a traditional way of living juxtaposed a modern, Western lifestyle,” she said. “Those contradictions manifested in the landscape surrounding me, the historical against the contemporary, with layers of change and transformation.”
Immigration to a new country profoundly impacts her imagery.
“In my paintings, I examine the relationship between memories and the external landscape,” she said. “My Iranian background and my Canadian experience have had an enormous influence on my works. They inspired a negotiation between the modern and the ancient, the old and the new, the West and the East. Ancient ruins and Persian architecture play a pivotal role, too. They have enabled me to express the conflict and the negotiation process that often exists between two different cultures or societies. While the ruins speak of a mysterious, pure and mystical past, they also illustrate the corrosive effect of time and modernity, the constant reconfiguration of a country’s landscape, architecture and culture. The dripping paint in many of my pictures also illuminates the process of renewal. The old slides down, while the new grows over it. My paintings attempt to form a bridge between the past and the present.”
Two of the paintings particularly stand out. “The Magical Carpet” is a collage, full of the whimsical patterns, warm hues and bright shapes of a traditional eastern bazaar, with the artist’s customary ruins in the background.
Another painting, “Letters from Beyond”, with its strong punch of red paint, uses fragments of writing that are wholly imaginary. “The language and the letters in that writing don’t belong to any nation,” Abdollahi said. “I created it because I believe that we are all the same people. We should have no borders and no different languages separating us. That’s why I wanted to have a show here, at the Jewish Community Centre. I feel like my art is a link that connects us all.”
Abdollahi’s works can be found in private collections in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Intersecting Landscapes runs until Oct. 12. For more information, visit sorourart.wordpress.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].