Diversity and Collage | Nicholas Campagna

P. Mansaram, Diversity on Ontario Streets, 2010, Mixed media on Masonite, 76 x 122 cm

AGM high school co-op intern Nicholas Campagna reflects upon current exhibitions P. Mansaram  Past | Present and 011+91 | 011+92.

When I see Mansaram’s Diversity on Ontario Streets, I wonder if this picture was taken with these people around each other or was the crowd in this piece created by the artist in his rendition of Ontario Streets? In Mansaram’s artwork his comparisons between India and Canada are observations about the similarities between the two. Mansaram seems to find relations between his education and the diversity in India to the diversity in Canada. Mansaram’s representation of India is important because it disrupts the notion that Indian identity is homogenous and instead, directs viewers’ attention to its rich culture. Analogous to his collage techniques, Mansaram’s India and Canada are positioned layered societies that resonate one another’s diversity.

One example of the comparison, is Mansaram’s Maharaja, in which Indian royalty is related to Pierre Trudeau and his service as the Prime Minister of Canada becomes reframed in the artist’s inherited history. This relates to Mansaram’s piece Diversity on Ontario Streets because of the technique in finding images not usually associated and using them to compose works that adds new perspectives to the depictions.

Accessing a different aspect of collage, artist Joe Webb creates pieces by selectively subtracting subjects from vintage photographs and replacing them with abstract imagery or with contemporary equivalents. His work could be compared to Mansaram’s theory of the rear view mirror which looks at the past while also looking toward the future. In a similar way, Webb takes images from the past including images of people and putting them into different time periods and setting them in the future for observation by a new public.

Webb’s practice of contemporizing and questioning vintage imagery through collage can also be related to the exhibit 011+91 | 011+92.  Though the artists in this exhibition do not work with collage and use a variety of media, they all seem to layer themselves, what they know and what they wish to know. The artists portray internal and external ideas of themselves — who are they, and who do people expect them to be because? In their work, tensions play out like collage.

Meera Sethi, Mariam Maharaj (Mary), (Foreign Returned series), 2013, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 183 cm
Meera Sethi, Mariam Maharaj (Mary), (Foreign Returned series), 2013, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 183 cm

Artist Meera Sethi, who is of Indian descent, captures this perfectly by creating works in the style of Indian miniature painting, but in a style that draws from Pop Art in its scale and colours. Though Sethi was born and raised in Canada, her decision to employ two otherwise disparate styles reflect not only the theme of worn heritage in her work, but  her globalized identity. Another artist from the exhibit who expressed her layered identifications is Avantika Bawa. Unlike Sethi, Bawa was educated in India, but chooses not to draw visibly from her heritage. Instead, she focuses on the architecture of other cities, and how she can represent it even if she hasn’t been to that part of the world. For example, for Absolute Yellow in the AGM exhibition, Bawa worked from photographs of Mississauga’s Absolute Towers, and only saw the towers in person right before the exhibition opened. Bawa’s work explores the difference between representation of place versus the experience of it.

Seeing the exhibition and the complex interpretations of identity, I am reminded of my own experience when I moved from Etobicoke to Mississauga. The move broadened my contact with diverse peoples, and made me realize how limited my previous experiences have been. I was exposed to a new world of culture, one with many layers, as shown in the works of Mansaram and the artists in 011+91 | 011+92.

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011+91 | 011+92 and P. Mansaram   Past | Present are on view at the AGM until September 7. Information

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