The Aga Khan Museum Park is a vision; as you walk into its realm, you are engulfed by the aura of peacefulness and the breathtaking setting of greenery. Though the design has a contemporary feel, the inspiration of this park is deeply rooted in traditional Islamic gardens. Besides the beautiful foliage, there are five pools and for the very first time, the Aga Khan Museum Park has become an exhibition venue for an art installation.
The five reflecting pools have been transformed into thrones, seating two photographs each. On display are Aida Muluneh’s works of utter magnificence, floating atop the gently flowing water. Muluneh, born in Ethiopia and raised between England and Yemen, is by a profession a photojournalist turned fine arts photographer. Her photographs challenge the Western-way of thinking and force us to re-examine how we view the East. In Reflections of Hope, Muluneh – who is also presents herself in each photograph as the striking and powerful figure returning the gaze of the viewer – utilizes chromatic composition with the fashion ensemble inspired by her native continent of Africa.
Her poise and expression of regality mixed with the affectivity of undeniable perseverance stare back at the onlooker, pressuring the viewers to consider every aspect of each photograph. These photographs force the spectators to think: to become cognizant yet apprehensive of what they consume from the media.
The colours used in the photographs are enthused from flags of African countries while the face paint is a common form of adornment in tribes of Ethiopia. In the photograph below, Muluneh is cradling a white rose and her black robe has سلام written over it. سلام, or salaam is an Arabic word which means “peace” but is also commonly used as a general greeting in Muslim countries. White roses are usually meant to symbolize purity; her hands are painted blue, her face is half black and half white, while her head-wrap is red along with randomly placed spots in the background. This photograph challenges the Oriental gaze, replacing the gaze with images of peace and purity, but the red is symbolic of the bloodsheds that happened through the colonial era and its aftermath. The artist is bringing forth topics of slavery and human rights; urging us to question the obvious racist frameworks within the mentality of our Western progressive societies.
Muluneh’s photographs are not just an exhibition of pure magnificence, but they are also a testimony to the ramifications of a bloody and unjust history whose consequences are still very deeply embedded in societal subconsciousness.
Text and photo: Tehniat Khan
*Exhibition information: Aida Muluneh, Reflections of Hope, April 2 – September 3, 2018, Aga Khan Park, 77 Wynford Dr. Toronto.
** Part of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival