GTA21 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto
By Kaya Joan
I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to experience their current exhibition Greater Toronto Art 2021 (GTA21), a collection of works from 21 artists and collectives with connections to T’karonto. Curated by Daisy Desrosiers, Rui Mateus Amaral, and November Paynter, the show occupies all three floors of the museum. The works respond through a multitude of disciplines to the curatorial question “What feels most urgent to you today?” with the central themes of (re)imagining, remembering, and resisting.
On the first floor, Walter Scott’s Read the Room, a collection of multi-media sculptural works, exposes the tension, anxiety, and humor within the creative process. Neon lights are displayed in their wooden transport boxes with wires exposed, while fabric covers surrounding columns of the museum itself in various states of “undress.” Scott playfully engages with the vulnerability of being perceived. Adjacent is Julia Dault’s work, printed on floor to ceiling curtains, displaying images inspired by obscurity and abstraction. Inviting museum patrons to draw the curtains open or closed, Dault encourages autonomy from the viewer in deciding what is seen.
Moving to the second floor, Jesse Chun’s O (for various skies) also engages with visibility, challenging hierarchies embedded in colonial ways of knowing. Projected onto two columns is a mirrored video work, where Chun gestures to earthly and divine realms through her reverence of celestial bodies such as the moon. Collaged against footage of the sky is deconstructed military text, music notation, and archival footage of a Korean moon dance. Iterations of the symbol “O” along with the mirrors emphasize the notion of cycles and eternity, which Azza El Siddique continues to explore in her nearby installation Begin in Smoke, End in Ashes.
Siddique presents a ceiling-to-floor structure of steel beams, built around four of the MoCA’s columns, referencing a Nubian burial chamber. Water drips from the top, wearing away slowly at small clay sculptures of vases and familial heirlooms which become abstracted with time. The scent of sandalwood also fills the air, signaling a cleansing of spirit and self, and I am left contemplating how the sacred exists within an institutionalized space.
Around the corner, Kareem-Anthony Ferreira’s two untitled paintings reveal tender moments between people, reminiscent of the family photographs that inspire his work. Ferreira uses collage throughout his process to express the way memory is malleable. This reminds me of Aaron Jones’ collage-based work, Conscious Energy on the Sea, which is displayed outside the museum. Jones also explores the space in between the imagined and real, and his ability to (re)imagine ways of being in relationship with others and the land.
Pamila Matharu’s installation the heart is the origin of your worldview is an upheaval of Eurocentric accounts of history, with overturned classroom chairs posed in front of an imperial world map and photographs related to the Komagata Maru incident of World War I. The title alongside the work urges a shift in ways of thinking and remembering, addressing what is erased through institutionalized systems and modes of education.
On the third floor, I was immediately taken with the Native Art Department’s (Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan) Double Gazebo. Rope surrounds two interlinked black gazebos, inhibiting access and provoking a sense of disconnection, which juxtaposes the sculpture itself. This sense of abstracted functionality and tension is carried through the work of Oluseye’s sculptural series Ploughing Liberty. The artist combined recovered hockey sticks with old farm tools, which hang across the span of an entire museum wall. Oluseye challenges what is assigned value in the Canadian consciousness, referencing the often unacknowledged labor of Black and Brown migrant and enslaved farm workers in contrast with the revered sport of hockey. This makes me think again about the politics of visibility and the artist’s role in remembering, reimaging, and reframing.
The final work I sat with before descending the elevator was Sahar Te’s Listening Attends. It is simultaneously a commanding and subdued presence in the space, as soft breaths emanate from a large truck normally used for “crowd control” that has been wrapped in taut black fabric. Te’s abstraction of the vehicle enacts a refusal of attention to the object itself, and I spend a few moments close to the piece feeling grounded in my breath before departing.
Kaya Joan is an Afro-Indigenous multidisciplinary artist born and raised in T’karonto, Dish with One Spoon Treaty Territory.