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Discovering a Slice of Diversity

When you consider how multicultural our city is, an exhibition such as Deer Lake Gallery’s Discovery: A Slice of Diversity should not be considered especially unique. But, it is.

Focusing on works from a defined group of six female artists from the Ismaili Muslim community, Discovery is at once evocative, provocative and thought-provoking. And that was the goal of the exhibit’s curator, Taslim Samji.

Through curating and her own artistic practices, Samji is constantly searching for different perspectives that relate to her own existence and identity in the global environment.

As an artist, some of Samji’s works can be found as part of Discovery. In this case, a series of vivid images centering on the universal, cross-cultural theme of music and drumming.

Taslims Drum Series

Samji’s goal in curating this exhibit is both ambitious and impressive: to help breakdown generalizations while offering diverse expressions from “artists who have something to say.” Her intention with Discovery is to encourage compassion, tolerance and understanding across cultures.

“Art can be a vehicle for change,” Samji explains. “And it’s a great way to express that change and bring it to people.”

The artists in Discovery – Naznin Virji-Babul, Shazia’Ayn Babul, Yasmin P. Karim, Sher Nasser, Nashifa Rashid and Taslim Samji – share similar cultural backgrounds, migrating to Canada from their birthplace of East Africa, with cultural roots in India and surrounding countries. Two of the artists in this exhibit are mother and daughter.

Despite this shared background and journey, the forms of expression and concepts in this exhibit vary significantly – from paintings and sculptures to installations, mixed media and literary works.

The age gap between these artists is equally surprising. Take, for example, 16-year-old Shazia’Ayn Babul. Her piece “Let me Speak” pushes boundaries with its portrait of a forlorn-looking woman whose mouth is cruelly covered up by two hands.

In yet another piece, appropriately titled “Push the Boundaries,” a woman’s bare, vulnerable back is placed in front of a Canadian map. The image is both visually stunning and poignant.

On the other side of the spectrum is Sher Nasser, an artist in her 70s who picked up the paintbrush when she was 60 years old. Nasser’s portrait of “The Bride” resonates with pure joy and light, while her other pieces are full of energy and elegance, playfulness and a sense of home.

Beyond the paintings are the sculptures, which are just as meaningful and striking. Naznin Virji-Babul’s “Woman with Dying Child” is a powerful piece that beautifully captures the endurance and strength of women everywhere, even in the most heartbreaking circumstances.

For me, there aren’t enough words to describe the array of emotions, expressions and styles by this group of female Ismaili artists.

But, if I had to pick just one word, it would be celebration. To me, this display is a celebration of diversity – not just of expression, but also of artistic styles and backgrounds, of commonalities and of differences, all connected together to create a cohesive exhibit that inspires, moves and provokes.

Discovery: A Slice of Diversity is on exhibit through November 29th. For more information, visit Deer Lake Gallery.