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Building new narratives at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Fine Arts alumni reinterpret the museum’s collections by pairing them with their work
October 10, 2018
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By Katharine Stein

photo : Jonathan Villeneuve From left to right: Arwa Abouon, Maria Ezcurra et Nuria Carton de Grammont (photo: Daniela Ortiz), Karen Tam (photo: Gabrielle Provost), les membres de Z’otz* Collective (photo: Pascal Flores), Brendan Fernandes (photo: Chester Vincent Toye), Hua Jin (photo: Jinyoung Kim) and Pavitra Wickramasinghe (photo: Jonathan Villeneuve).

Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections, a new exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, connects artwork from the museum’s collections with contemporary work by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The museum invited seven artists to select works that inspired them from its world cultures collections and to link them to their own pieces. Six of those artists, featured in five of the seven projects, are Faculty of Fine Arts alumni.

By opening up the collection to contemporary artists, the exhibition seeks to create space for interventions into the way the museum frames works from different cultures – a gesture, the museum explains, that is informed by postcolonial writer Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of hybridity.

“Normally artistic or cultural institutions build their own narratives of their collections and of their exhibitions. For example, [the MMFA’s] collection of the Americas is their own vision of history,” explains artist and Part-time Professor of Art History Nuria Carton de Grammont (Ph.D Art History 2012).

Carton de Grammont, together with Maria Ezcurra (Ph.D Art Education 2016), created a piece representing Montreal’s Latin American community.

“For us it was important to give a voice to the community and also to have them participate in the construction of those historical narratives,” she adds.  

The artworks in Connections will enter the museum’s permanent collection as part of the Stéphan Crétier and Stéphany Maillery Wing for World Cultures and Togetherness, scheduled to open next Summer.

View of the exhibition Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019.  Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley. View of the exhibition Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019. Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley.

Maria Ezcurra and Nuria Carton de Grammont

For Effets Personnels/Personal Belongings/Objetos Personales, Ezcurra and Carton de Grammont interviewed people who immigrated to Canada from twenty-one different Latin American countries. Each person talked about an object that made a significant impact upon their journey’s narrative. Then the curators paired these objects with items from the museum’s Art of the Americas collection. The objects selected from the museum’s collection, like the personal objects chosen by interviewees, share important commonalities.

“It was important for us to put in dialogue the collection, which are objects … that have their own history of immigration, [with] the history of immigration of the community,” explains Carton de Grammont. “The objects that we asked people to present were everyday objects but also sacred objects, in the sense that they have a value, a significance or a sentiment that is important for them.”

Arwa Abouon

Arwa Abouon’s (BFA Design 2007) work plays off of the multiple cultural registers within which she identifies as a person of Libyan and Amazigh heritage who immigrated to Quebec early in life. Her work in the exhibition echoes the motifs of traditional Islamic lustreware tradition as seen in select Iranian tiles from the museum’s collection.

Hua Jin

Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley View of the exhibition Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019. Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley.

Hua Jin’s (MFA Studio Arts 2015) series of laser-printed porcelain plates were inspired by a selection of blue-underglazed porcelain dishes from China. Key differences in process and finish between Jin’s pieces and those from the museum’s collection “reflect the gradual disappearance of the age-old art” of porcelain painting due to mass production, propelled by high demand from foreign collectors.

Karen Tam

Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley. View of the exhibition Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019. Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley.

For her contribution, Chinese-Canadian ceramicist Karen Tam (BFA Studio Arts 2000 and Finalist for the Prix Louis-Comtois 2017) focused on the museum’s collection of Chinese porcelain created for western consumption in the eighteenth century. Playing off the concept of cultural mimicry, her own work echoes the shapes and motifs of traditional Chinese vessels using Styrofoam, sequins, and bug patterns.

Pavitra Wickramasinghe

Pavitra Wickramasinghe, Île flottante / All is Water, 2017- 2018. Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections exhibition. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019.  Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley Pavitra Wickramasinghe, Île flottante / All is Water, 2017- 2018. Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections exhibition. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019. Photo: MMFA, Denis Farley.

Sri-Lankan-Canadian Pavitra Wickramasinghe (MFA Studio Arts 2010) created a sculptural installation that incorporates moving shadows, inspired by a sixteenth-century perfumed oil jar from Thailand that was readapted for use in Japanese tea ceremonies. “The way in which the jar adapted to a new place – identity and use reinvented – resonated with the artist’s work on migration, translation and islands.” Her moving sculptures echo the tea caddy’s forms while continuously morphing them, a comment on the transformative aspects of intercultural translation.

 

Connections: Our Artistic Diversity Dialogues with Our Collections runs at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 18, 2018, to June 23, 2019.



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