I am land that remembers

Set in bustling Union Station, west of the Great Hall, I Am Land is a three-part exhibition series showing for ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art, 2021–2022, a year-long celebration of Toronto’s exceptional public art collection and the creative community behind it.

Installation view of I am land that remembers

The current exhibition, I am land that remembers is about how contemporary artists take up the role of chronicler, and how collective history is created in pubic spaces. Curator of ArtworxTO South Hub, Maya Wilson-Sanchez has grouped together artists who confront questions of history-making. What kind of stories do we remember? What stories are left out and forgotten because of class, gender or race?

Curator, Maya Wilson- Sanchez introduces the exhibition. Photo: Mirna Chacin

Wilson- Sanchez walked me through the exhibition space, where I, and hundreds of others in transit that day, got to experience the impermanence of a changing history, and reflect on the untold stories of our culture’s past.

Artist Miles Rufelds’ work Annotations on a Profitable Enterprise (It spans the world) was commissioned for this exhibition specifically. The artist critically analyzes an important part of Canada’s archival history through his extensive research into the Canadian Pacific Railway. On the floor, like a scattering of archives, are a collection of images and posters used throughout the railway’s history, including historic union strikes, Canada’s history of mining, and propaganda posters enticing white settlers to travel to the western provinces. Maya Wilson-Sanchez explains, “it’s all here, truth is all on the surface for you to see, it is a thorough and story-like look at capitalism and colonization which are two sides of the same coin”.

Miles Rufelds, Annotations on a Profitable Enterprise (It spans the world)

Nour Bishouty’s untitled work focuses on impermanence and family history. After the loss of her father, an artist who made souvenirs in Amman, Jordan during the 1990’s, she remembers him by recreating his art practice with ice, documented through photograph in the exhibition space. This work is about love, intimacy and memory as the art pieces, made originally of wood, but recreated with ice that is melting when contacted with Bishouty’s body. It holds the ephemeral meaning of the passing of time, of family and cultural history – all suspended in a temporary existence.

Nour Bishouty, Untitled, detail

In another poignant display of family history, Sarhuina Women and their Intangible Cultural Heritage presents Peruvian artist Venuca Evanán Vivanco, with her own Sarhuina paintings on display. Sarhuina is a style of painting that is traditionally a male practice, but Venuca teaches this kind of painting method to other women in her community. She encourages women to take part in the creation and economic gains enabled by this skill set, arguing that this is also part of their cultural birthright.

Sarhuina paintings by Venuca Evanán Vivanco

During my time in I am land that remembers, I was reminded that identity loss is directly linked to land that is taken away – and also that this trauma is universal. I am land that remembers showcases the reclamation of culture and empowerment.

Tania Willard, Carrying memories of the land

I think the success of the exhibition series I am Land comes from its clear delivery of its message. Maya Wilson-Sanchez concludes the tour with explaining her intent, “As a curator, I’m interested in historiography, and who gets a say, how it gets created, what gets shared. I love working with artists who are thinking in historical terms, but are always bringing that into the contemporary.”

Installation view of I am land that remembers with work by Iván Argote (left), Amber Webb (right) and Miles Rufelds (on the floor)

Georgia Gardner

Images are courtesy of ArtworxTO. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

*Exhibition information: I am land that remembers / including artists Iván Argote, Nour Bishouty, Glenna Cardinal, Miles Rufelds, South African duo MADEYOULOOK, Venuca Evanán Vivanco, Amber Webb, Tania Willard and Shellie Zhang, March 2 – May 29, 2022, Union Station west of the Great Hall. The third part of this series, I am land that speaks will take place June 6 – October 2, 2022.

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