Ornamenting Relation

Hamra Abbas, Golnar Adili, asmaa al-issa, Azadeh Elmizadeh, Ayesha Singh

July 4–August 28, 2022
Curated by Noor Bhangu

Part six of Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter lightbox series

Ayesha Singh, Skewed Histories, 2022. Courtesy the artist.

Ornamenting Relation features five artists from different cultural and aesthetic locations—Hamra Abbas, Golnar Adili, asmaa al-issa, Azadeh Elmizadeh, and Ayesha Singh. Together, their artworks develop an architecture of ornament and relation that can be accessed through three organizing intuitions: The Grammar of Ornament, The Golden Thread, and Relation.

Centering the ornament in this series is to revitalize it as a field of artistic and cultural practice, while expanding its forms of communication. Each lightbox offers different ways of reading the ornament. They include geometric, architectural, painterly, and textual references that represent different artistic ways of ornamentation. Hamra Abbas’s Kaaba Picture as a Misprint depicts a geometric distortion of the most sacred site of Islam, a site of both pilgrimage and nostalgic return. Architectural forms in the work of Ayesha Singh attain more readability: iconic motifs of Mughal structures in India are recognizable despite their hybridized and amalgamated forms. Azadeh Elmizadeh’s work is situated between abstraction and representation in that it obscures figures in a battle scene, commonly depicted in the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp. The figures and their actions retain their relational energy in the heat of battle, even as they are effaced and made esoteric through painterly ornamentation. Finally, Golnar Adili’s Bestizand (They Quarrel) evokes binaries—of decoration and function, translation and opacity, textual and visual—that further explodes the ornament into the realm of possibility through articulation and refusal.

The final artist included in Ornamenting Relation is asmaa al-issa, whose work is presented as a Respondent Program. Our recorded conversation about the decorative and relational impulse in her work can be viewed online. Of note is the latency of intuitive research in her own work, which is best illustrated by her consistent use of golden threads. The golden thread concept was first introduced to the artist by a professor in Comparative Religions, who envisioned it moving through all religions of the world and bringing them into potential relation. By bringing asmaa’s research into the fold of this series, her golden threads can be extended to stitch together the diversity of the projects included.

This set aims to activate the concept of ornament as a potential site for relation, where diverse histories and aesthetics may come together. The golden thread moves across disparate landscapes and politics without breaking. How can a geometric flattening of the Kaaba speak alongside the nostalgia for Mughal architecture in the Hindu-nationalist context of India? What can discussions of international residencies and comparative religion lend to our understanding of painterly mystifications and opaque textualities?

This project is a visual manifestation of a desire for connection and intimacy through the figure and process of the ornament, one which opts for relation over homogeneity.

—Noor Bhangu

Visit the Blackwood website for the full curatorial statement, artist bios, and documentation. Parallel programs and interpretative video tours with Educator-in-Residence Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan will be released throughout the series.

Respondent Program

Across the six-part lightbox series Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter, each curator activates a Respondent Program that brings a practitioner into dialogue with an image set. The Blackwood is pleased to welcome artist asmaa al-issa to speak about her interactions with the ornament through a recorded conversation with curator Noor Bhangu.

Attunement Session

Facilitated by Educator-in-Residence Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan, six interdisciplinary practitioners have been invited to develop an Attunement Session that responds to an image set with prompts that challenge viewers to open new ways of understanding what we see. Each of these sessions offer pedagogic tools to assist audiences with “tuning-in” by means of embodiment, perception, texture, joy, meditation, encounter, touch, intimacy, sound, intuition, or other senses. For the sixth session, artist Golboo Amani will respond to Ornamenting Relation.

Visit the Blackwood Gallery website for responses and educational resources throughout Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter.

About Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter
A six-part lightbox series

September 13, 2021–August 28, 2022

Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

Artists: Hamra Abbas, Golnar Adili, asmaa al-issa, Asinnajaq & Camille Georgeson-Usher, Nydia Blas, Widline Cadet, Michèle Pearson Clarke, Jasmine Clarke, Azadeh Elmizadeh, Ali Eyal, Emily Jacir, Jenny Lin, Morris Lum, Sydney Frances Pickering, Walid Raad, Zineb Sedira, Ayesha Singh

Curatorial Consortium: Amin Alsaden, Noor Bhangu, Letticia Cosbert Miller, Ronald Rose-Antoinette, Becca Taylor, Ellyn Walker

Educator-in-Residence: Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan

Over the course of spring-summer 2021, a group of independent curators met during a series of working sessions to curate a public lightbox program on the UTM campus for the 2021–2022 academic year. The Curatorial Consortium fosters a unique connective and dialogical space in which to hold commonalities, in an effort to think together through negotiating differences. The resulting program, Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter, responds to this exercise in collaborative composition while honouring the independent thinking that makes group work possible—at a moment when the need to protect independent thought and academic freedom (within and beyond the university) is both palpable and deeply urgent.

For the full curatorial statement, please visit the Blackwood website.

The Blackwood gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the University of Toronto Mississauga. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the University of Toronto affinity partners: Manulife, MBNA, and TD Insurance.

The Blackwood
University of Toronto Mississauga
3359 Mississauga Rd.
Mississauga, ON L5L 1C6

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Please note: Crossings: Itineraries of Encounter is FREE and open to the public, and accessible 24 hours a day in four outdoor lightboxes across UTM campus. Some movement throughout the campus is required—ramps and curb cuts are in place.

Please respect social distancing protocols while on campus.

Image descriptions: 1) Black outlines of Mughal architectural motifs overlap through the image, creating a collaged rendering buildings. 2) An empty lightbox on UTM campus is photographed at dusk. The oversized, horizontal-format lightbox hangs on a concrete wall along a walkway, with a courtyard in the background.