The Toronto Biennial of Art at Arsenal

The Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA), one of Canada’s leading visual arts events, focuses exclusively on contemporary art from around the world. The biennial’s city-wide programming aims to inspire individuals, engage communities, and contribute to global conversations.

TBA’s second edition theme, What Water Knows, Land Remembers is a mixed-media nature-orientated group show exploring the uses of the natural world, “revealing entangled narratives and ecologies across time and space”.

At Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto, the exhibition also emphasizes — through foraging native plants, creating fabrics, and ultimately celebrating the authenticity of native produce and culture — the oppression and triumphs these artists faced in their respective homelands.

Installation view at Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2022). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Jumana Manna’s Foragers (2022) weaves fiction, documentary and archival footage into a film that depicts the problematic issues around the practice of foraging for wild edible plants in Palestine/Israel. The impact of nature protection laws is prevalent in all aspects of the film. It documents how the changes in laws affects people who have lived on that land for centuries, as it forces them to change their cultural and dietary habits. The restrictions prohibit the collection of Akkoub and Za’atar and have resulted in fines and trials for hundreds of disadvantaged natives, mainly Arabs, caught collecting these plants.

Jumana Manna, Foragers, 2022, video with audio, 65 minutes.  On view at Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2022). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

A striking artwork that fills the largest space in the room is Kaokao #1 from The Mata Aho Collective, based in Aotearoa New Zealand. The installation is made from 200 meters of reflective tape, sewn together in a tukutuku lattice pattern. “Through their work, the act of coming together, the many hours of piecing a work by hand, is emphasized as integral to their process and calls attention to the Maori concept of whanau, or extended family, this time on a monumental scale.”

Mata Aho Collective, Kaokao #1, 2014, reflective fabric, cotton thread, 1200 x 220 cm. On view at Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2022). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the artist and TBA

Similarly, Amy Malbeuf ‘s Kahkiyaw kikway (All of Everything), is a large-scale installation made from combination of moose and deer hide sewn together. The artist continues the traditions of northern Alberta’s regional aesthetics in skin preparation and cloth fashioning. She leaves her work unembellished on purpose. Both large scale pieces highlight the labour that has gone into its making, featuring themes that include strength and unity.

Amy Malbeuf, Kahkiyaw kikway (All of Everything), 2019 – 2022, smoked tanned moose and deer hide, raw deer hide, nylon thread, cotton thread, dimensions variable. On view at Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art (2022). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

TBA’s exhibits at Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto include a variety of subject matters and artistic mediums in the work of 7 artists or groups, from videography to painting, to large scale structures. Ultimately, they present an arsenal of shared experience — which stems from a return, and exploration of nature.

Georgia Gardner

Images are courtesy of the TBA.

*Exhibition information: What Water Knows, Land Remembers includes artists Abel Rodriguez, Amy Malbeuf, Aycoobo/Wilson Rodriguez, Buhlebezwe Siwani, Jumana Manna, Mata Aho Collective, Waqas Khan, March 26 – June 5, 2022, Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto, 45 Ernest Ave, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tues – Sun, 10am – 6pm.

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