Mia Sandhu at The Assembly, Hamilton

Soft KaurMia Sandhu’s first solo presentation as a recent and welcome addition to The Assembly’s member roster, features the paper assemblages that first caught my attention in past group exhibitions here in Hamilton – fluttering tableaux of strange communal rites beating at the heart of exquisitely contour-cut leaves and fronds, painted with a miniaturist’s care and held in precarious suspension by tiny brass pins.

Mia Sandhu, Soft Kaur, 2018, installation view

These scenes are populated by a very specific type of black female silhouette, the sort that leave their Victorian predecessors in the dust with their fertile proportions and proudly conical breasts. Between their pinkly parted labia and the surrounding outbursts of menstrual red, these scenes bear the universal simplicity of an unapologetic feminism. The ornately patterned cloaks that obscure many of these figures tell a different, more complicated story of the uneasy territory these bodies navigate on feet too small to bear their weight.

The paintings accompanying Sandhu’s cut-outs feature the same iconic figure writ large in a world of soft colonizing hues, partly hidden from view by a physical drapery attached to the canvas. This gesture performs the same self-conscious blush suggested by Sandhu’s cut-outs while actively frustrating the viewer’s gaze – the rest of the painting is tantalizingly close for any who may be tempted to violate the stillness of that thin, striped drape.

Venturing upstairs to the Assembly’s mezzanine reveals a third figurative painting whose lack of drapery creates the jolt of entering a private realm of playful abandon. A final punctuation of a work in the exhibition’s deepest reach places one more of Sandhu’s figures – this one threateningly close to life scale – behind a suggested door of hand-painted vertical blinds that tilt aside to offer a flick of hair here, a glimpse of breasts there, and the bloodied tips of fingers, pointed as talons. While these bodies might be soft and even vulnerable, the hand that made them is razor sharp, tempered by battle.

Mia Sandhu: Soft Kaur continues until the end of November.
The Assembly: https://www.assemblygallery.ca/ 
The gallery is not accessible.

Stephanie Vegh is an artist and writer who has exhibited her work in the UK and Canada, and publishes art writing and criticism both locally and nationally. She maintains an active profile in regional arts advocacy, and currently serves as Manager, Media and Communications at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. She can be followed on Instagram @stephanievegh.