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The art of the matter

28 Nov 2007

Harbourfront

As part of its Fall/Winter arts exhibitions, Harbourfront Centre showcases “Moving Stories” featuring artists Ingrid Bachmann, Richard Fung, Diane Nasr O’Young and Joel Robson. Running until December 30th, the Moving Stores exhibition explores facets of each of these artists’ personal life experiences and individual memories as they relate to their art. As the exhibition’s press release indicates: “The exhibited pieces make visible how these artists use individual memories and stories to materialize their everyday lived experiences and, in turn, how they transform these personal statements to comment more broadly on the human condition.”

AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to speak with two of the featured artists who both happen to hail from Trinidad and Tobago: Richard Fung and Diane Nasr O’Young.

Richard Fung is a descendent of the first generation of Chinese immigrants to Trinidad & Tobago who arrived more than 150 years ago. As a professional artist his work has often had ties to his Caribbean roots. For the Moving Stories exhibition, Fung uses the experience of migration so common in the Caribbean to explore the duality of people belonging and moving back and forth between two different places.

“I know that when I go to Trinidad I’m kind of a different person. My accent changes. Here I’m a different person. But there’s a way in which when I’m in Trinidad I’m also a little bit Canadian. When I’m here I’m Trinidadian” says Fung.

In his new documentary video installation entitled Jehad in Motion, Richard Fung traces a portrait of an active Palestinian-Canadian social justice and peace activist named Jehad Al-Iweiwe. He follows him through his travels between his two homes in Toronto and Hebron.

Interestingly enough, Richard Fung and Jehad Al-Iweiwe are both “cooks for peace” through an activist network comprised of progressive Jews and Palestinians who, over the past five years, get together and cook for Passover. The money they raise goes to a Palestinian social justice charity.

As part of this cross-cultural activist network, Fung has been involved in the complex work around trying to understand the conflict in Israel and Palestine. He laments how “the media is so negative in reporting a lot of the real kind of substance of life in the West Bank and Gaza.” He is a keen observer of the social and human dynamics involved. “Politicians have basically ignored the fact that it’s a country of occupation that’s been declared many times illegal” he ads.

Realizing that conflict and hatred often stems from ignorance, Richard Fung says that he really wanted to capture and show the richness of Palestinian society. He also shows that while they’re living under terrible conditions, Palestinians nonetheless have a kind of zest for celebration and for being human.

“I don’t like when people are portrayed just as victims or aggressors because this is one way of dehumanizing people.”

The same way that Richard Fung talks about a pioneering first cousin of his mother (who was a great force in the Trinidadian art world) as an early influence, we also find Diane Nasr O’Young likewise discussing with AfroToronto.com the defining artistic influence of a great aunt of hers.

Although Diane Nasr O’Young never met her great aunt, the latter’s artistic gift as a lace maker was a great influence on O’Young. “She decorated her home with lace and she was a compulsive lace maker” she says, speaking of her great aunt. Diane Nasr O’Young pools from the inspiration of her great aunt’s lace textiles to chronicle her family’s stories and her childhood memories

“Even though I never knew her, instead I use clay and I decorate all my house and the trees outside with clay. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. If you didn’t know them, it comes out somehow.”

Diane Nasr O’Young is a great believer in the idea that family heritage and childhood memories have an important influence in the later work of an artist. She recalls walking around on the beach in Tobago recently and coming across a seashell that immediately jolted old childhood memories. Sixty-odd years later, she was still as awestruck about its beauty. All these impressions come out unconsciously in the process of creating art.

“I think really from the time you’re aware, from childhood, it’s all there. And as you work, sometimes, things come out that remind you and it’s a memory that has slipped away.”

Diane Nasr O’Young creates her work of clay to honour all the women in her family. Regardless of how they happen to have come to the island onto which she was born; as slaves or immigrants. “They worked hard and I just wanted to be able to honour some small fragment.”

The exhibition runs until December 30 @ Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West.

Exhibition hours for main gallery: Tuesday & Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, noon to 8 p.m. Regular hours for The Craft Studio: Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday & Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Closed on Monday.)

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