Constellationscape: A Star-Odyssey in Asma Sultana’s paintings
Inspired by astronomers, astrologists and the very stars they study, Asma Sultana takes a voyage into space to explore the numerous constellations in our night sky using craft rather than spacecraft. Like entering into a planetarium, Sultana’s solo exhibition is a mesmerizing experience of cosmic sublime.
Utilizing a salon style hanging arrangement, dozens of colourful acrylic paintings in an assortment of sizes evoke the impression of a celestial star map wrapped around the gallery walls. Panels range in dimension and material, some painted flat on canvas while others protrude on wood block. The high-saturated primary colours painted and splattered on the dark atmospheric backgrounds create vibrant bursts against the ominous depth of infinite space.
The viewer is immediately transported to nostalgic memories of grade school science class, stargazing on childhood camping trips and bedtime stories from Greek mythology to Galileo and first glances through a telescope. While you may have learned a handful of star patterns growing up, Sultana has taken on the daunting task to learn and paint all 88 constellations. This collection of work is a departure from Sultana’s usual art practice. Derived purely from a passion for the stars and the histories of storytelling bound to them, the artist has taken up painting once again as both means of production and expressive, therapeutic release.
Like in any great myth or folk tale, there is a moral behind Sultana’s body of work: just as the great celestial bodies are slowly putting more distance between them – we too are drifting away from nature and each other. Instead of belonging to our local community we embrace individual grandeur, favouring self-absorbed activities and creating barriers in order to be excluded. Entering the gallery one can’t help to feel minuscule in the vastness of space, that reminds us that everyone in our lives, regardless of who or what they are, connected, as we all share the tiny pale blue dot called Earth, our home.
Text and photo: Nathan Flint
*Exhibition information: February 14 – 25, 2018, Gallery 1313 Cell Gallery, 1313 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sun 1 – 6 pm.