By Allyson Aritcheta
All images by Jing Tey
OCAD University students test the things that separate us in Beyond Borders, examining themes that deal with physical, psychological, and societal divides. These works process borders in surreal and evocative ways.
Inspired by the story of King Shahryar in One Thousand and One Nights—a tale of one woman’s sacrifice that Ahlena Sultana-McGarry heard often from her mother as a child—Tiger Spring (2019) merges archival family photographs with visuals that derive from Sultana-McGarry’s memories of home. On cold press natural paper, she centres her mother’s experience of immigrating from Pakistan to Canada while also speaking about her experience of cultural loss.
Bright colours and images shift on paper, leaving trails that form landscapes of their own. Sultana-McGarry depicts her mother’s immigration story of self-sacrifice in a loving light by fusing it with vibrant memories of Pakistan. She frames her mother with nostalgia, looking back at hardship with a lens of beauty and respect. Mixing a story of struggle with happy memories, Sultana-McGarry successfully shapes immigration through the eyes of the child of an immigrant.
Charisse Fung battles cultural stereotyping in Banana Gen 3/4 (2019). The racist concept of being part of the ‘banana generation’ (the assumption that a Chinese person who grew up in Canada is therefore yellow on the outside and white on the inside) is confronted with the natural phenomenon of camouflaging in an inkjet print.
Blending in with pictures of discarded banana peels are shots of the artist in yellow clothing. A picture of Fung hides behind this layer, staring straight ahead with a sombre expression. The banana peel foreground shows Fung participating in the banana generation stereotype, while her expression in the background suggests that this imposed stereotype doesn’t sit well with her. The print surfaces aspects of Fung’s Chinese-Canadian identity—dealing with disguising or concealing as well as passively being removed from one’s culture. Hidden and not hidden, the artist as subject in Banana Gen 3/4 reveals a solemn reality on the cultural cost of straddling the private and public self.
“If only I were able to carry the view here with me,” thinks Sophie Min as she prepares to move again.
Drawn to this thought and the experience of constantly moving as a kid, Min created A Portable Cityscape (2019). The photography-based installation—which incorporates the view from Min’s apartment window—questions the transportation of space and the temporality and fragility of “home.”
In the middle of Beyond Borders is a pile of cardboard boxes. Some are taped shut, others house pictures of urban landscapes and sky. The tape rolls lying around the installation allude to Min packing again. In a state of frequent displacement, Min tries to store “home” and take its iterations with her in the very parcels which symbolize the fluctuating status of her living situations. Serving as portable window frames, the boxes interestingly capture the space outside, rather than the indoor spaces Min inhabits. This perspective effectively captures the feeling of security and consistency that comes with having a place to call your own. What Min tries to transport is the memory of feeling safe and rooted, giving the visitor a taste of the precarity she felt growing up in constant displacement—a state that she still lives in.
A pool at night (2018) by Jingwen Cao captures a quiet moment at a community hub. Dried leaves are scattered about. The pool ladder is wrapped in yellow caution tape. A light source can be seen at the edge of the inkjet print. The darkness beyond the partially drained pool and change rooms keeps the picture intimate, isolating and enclosing the viewer. You are alone in a space that doesn’t serve its function. You are waiting for night to pass, but it never will. You do not see what lives in the dark.
As a result, the picture creates a sense of being stuck in a place where you can’t do anything or leave. Cao uses the ominous elements of the print and the static moment to convince the viewer that there is safety in the broken space. Tactfully shot, A pool at night takes a mundane scene and injects streams of horror into its pieces, transforming solitude into coexistence.
Allyson Aritcheta is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and reviewer whose writing has appeared in This Magazine, Xtra, and From the Root. She has a graduate certificate in publishing from Centennial College and Bachelor of Arts from Ryerson University, where she majored in psychology and minored in English. Allyson is a co-owner of creative studio Barkada Freelance. She can be found on twitter @allaritcheta.