Ornamental Gestures

Millie Chen, detail, wallpaper, 2010, acrylic paint and ink on found wallpaper. Courtesy of the artist.

Ornamental Gestures

January 21 – April 1, 2023
Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto Scarborough

Works by Virgil Baruchel, Millie Chen, Ruth Cuthand, Soheila Esfahani, Ed Pien, Tazeen Qayyum, Shaheer Zazai
Curated by Sandy Saad-Smith

Ornamental Gestures brings together artists who work in beading, calligraphy, wallpaper, visual motifs, and rug design and production. They take contemporary approaches to artmaking methods traditional to their cultural heritages, and push their mediums into new territories that play with scale, context, process, and material. Their works challenge the distinction between art and craft, and occupy a space between contemporary art and cultural tradition. Ornamental Gestures is an invitation to spend time with and meditate on artworks that are at once decorative, fantastical, and critical.

All of the artists in Ornamental Gestures engage with and practice crafts as means to connect to their heritage and push back against the way it has been historically represented. They reclaim their cultural traditions and embrace the creative practices that remain on the periphery of objects, spaces, and critical discourse. The cultural reference points from which the artists’ work reveal an ongoing exploration of identity in the context of diaspora and colonization, while the tangible manifestations of their cultures speak to a connectedness and longing for one’s ancestry through material object.

The luminous works in the exhibition, painstakingly created by the artists, go beyond the notion of ornament to confront colonial and capitalistic mindsets. The works morph into new forms that highlight the continued domestication of the fabled Orient and Other, while questioning exclusionary biases present in Western modes of categorization and the ways in which culture is represented. Through nuanced approaches to engaging with processes and materials that have been historically referenced as ornamental, the artists in the exhibition produce a new visual vernacular.

Virgil Baruchel, Leisure as a form of resistance, 2022, woven paracord. Courtesy of the artist and Corkin Gallery.

Reception and Public Programs

All programming is free. For in-person programs, please see the DMG website for visitor information. Please contact dmg.utsc@utoronto.ca with any accommodation needs.

Opening Reception
Saturday, January 21, 2 – 4 pm
Location: Doris McCarthy Gallery

Join us to celebrate the opening of Ornamental Gestures at this public reception. Light refreshments and a cash bar will be offered, all welcome. Drop-in, no registration required.

Text & Image: Islamic Calligraphy Workshop with Soheila Esfahani
Tuesday, January 31, 2 – 5 pm
Location: AA304, Arts & Admin Building, U of T Scarborough
Register: dmg-calligraphy-workshop.eventbrite.ca

This workshop explores the ways in which calligraphy and text have been incorporated into visual arts. Through hands-on making, participants will have the opportunity to consider the creative possibilities of Islamic calligraphy, from traditional art forms to contemporary art. Artist Soheila Esfahani will lead participants in learning techniques using traditional reed pen and ink to create artworks inspired by text. Materials provided, spaces limited, registration required.

Artist Talk by Ruth Cuthand
Wednesday, February 15, 1 – 2 pm
Part of the Visiting Artist Lecture Series, co-presented by the Studio program, Department of Arts, Culture & Media, U of T Scarborough
Location: Online
Register: dmg-vals-cuthand.eventbrite.ca

Mixed media artist of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry, Ruth Cuthand’s practice includes painting, drawing, photography and beadwork. Through her powerful aesthetics balancing political invective and humour, her work challenges mainstream perspectives of colonialism and relationships between settlers and Indigenous people. Registration required.

Chinoiserie: A Conversation with Millie Chen & Ed Pien
Thursday, February 21, 1 – 2 pm
Location: Online
Register: dmg-chinoiserie-talk.eventbrite.ca

Artists Millie Chen and Ed Pien will speak about their works referencing chinoiserie in Ornamental Gestures, and the ways in which their use of the style addresses the translation and appropriation of culture, Orientalism and the Other, diasporic connections, and liminal tradition. Moderated by curator Sandy Saad-Smith. Registration required.

Introductory Workshop on Indian and Persian Miniature Painting with Tazeen Qayyum
Saturday, March 4, 12 – 5 pm
Location: BV340, Bladen Wing, U of T Scarborough
Register: dmg-miniaturepainting-workshop.eventbrite.ca

In this introductory workshop to miniature painting of Persian and South Asian traditions, artist Tazeen Qayyum outlines the different traditional styles and schools. The workshop includes demonstrations of various techniques, including the making of qalam (brush) and wasli (archival prepared paper). Participants will work through a drawing assignment to reinforce a number of different techniques. Materials provided, spaces limited, registration required.

Digital & Textiles Workshop with Shaheer Zazai
Thursday, March 23, 4 – 6 pm
Location: Online
Register: dmg-digitaltextiles-workshop.eventbrite.ca

This online workshop offers the opportunity to create patterns and designs with digital images and textiles. Artist Shaheer Zazai will discuss his process and encourage participants to experiment with a variety of digital designs using Microsoft Word and Google Docs. Participants will learn more about and play with the visual vocabulary of colours and numbers that exist both in digital images as well as textiles. Registration required.

Ruth Cuthand, Anxiety, 2022, glass beads, thread, backing. Courtesy of the artist and Art Placement.

Doris McCarthy Gallery
University of Toronto Scarborough
1265 Military Trail
Toronto, Ontario M1C 1A4

Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 11 am to 4 pm; Wednesday, 11 am to 7 pm; Saturday, 11 to 5 pm. Admission is free. Open to the public. The gallery is wheelchair accessible.

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