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of the sacred

April 21 - June 5, 2020

Critical Distance Centre for Curators, co-presented in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival 


OF THE SACRED testifies to the survival of personal beliefs, spiritual traditions, and religious practices in the face of colonialism and migrations. In their practices, artists Farah Al Qasimi, Kaya Joan, Bea Parsons, Yelaine Rodriguez, and Whyishnave Suthagar trace cultural inheritances of faith, lineages of intergenerational knowledge, and the syncretism of beliefs that emerge in times of turbulent change and upheaval.

Blending aspirations of the future with inherited beliefs, Jamaican-Vincentian-Kanien’kehá:ka artist Kaya Joan paints elaborate dreamscapes that feature swirling celestial forms and otherworldly entities. The artist’s work opens portals that trace spiritual lineages passed down from their ancestors—from across the Caribbean and Turtle Island—and combine Black and Indigenous futurisms with the artist’s vision of hope for a utopic future. 

Yelaine Rodriguez is an Afro-Dominican artist who looks to the syncretism of Afro-Caribbean belief systems—including Voodoo and Santeria—originating in the Yoruban faith, a religion brought to the Caribbean from West Africa as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. The artist stages and photographs scenes in which individuals outfitted in lushly patterned and textured costumes—of the artist’s own design—are depicted in tableau-style settings as the deities from these various faiths. These scenes are printed onto textiles with ornate, decorative elements to create religious tapestries. These works pay reverence to these deities while challenging the often Eurocentric assumptions made of Afro-Caribbean religions.

Emirati artist Farah Al Qasimi’s Um Al Naar (2019), Arabic for “mother of fire,” is a tongue-in-cheek, feature-length film that follows the peculiar storytelling of the eponymously-named jinn, a genie from Arabic folklore. The jinn, outfitted in floral sheets, narrates the history of the changing face of Ras Al Kjairmah, the greater region of the United Arab Emirates, and local folklore through centuries of foreign occupation and religious imposition.

Bea Parsons is an artist of Cree, Scottish, and French ancestry whose surreal prints convey a symbolic visual language of natural imagery and abstracted self-portraiture, which give way to metaphors of inner states and convictions. Inspired by Cree traditions, the artist’s works approach the concept of spiritual oneness between what she sees as competing identities within herself. 

Whyishnave Suthagar is a Tamil-Canadian artist whose meditative installations use black light and light-reactive threads to outline imagery drawn from ancient mythologies, dreams, and memories. As an homage to her dual cultural identity, mandalas often feature in her work—a practice passed down matrilineally across generations, which she learned from her mother while growing up in Canada. 

OF THE SACRED follows the courageous resilience of people, their communities, and their beliefs as they thrive across generations of displacements prompted by settler-colonialism and forced migrations. Through their works, the artists reflect on personal histories and familial legacies of endurance against dominant cultures where their beliefs have been positioned in the periphery.

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