Rolla Tahir: I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing

Rolla Tahir, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (detail), 2023, yarn and 35mm film. Photo by Arturo Jimenez.

Centre[3] for Artistic and Social Practice Presents

Rolla Tahir: I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing

Curated by Lesley Loksi Chan

Exhibition: May 5 – June 30, 2023
Opening Reception: Friday, May 12, 7–10 p.m.

In Rolla Tahir’s debut solo exhibition, I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing, she departs from her moving-image practice to create a suite of handwoven works made from celluloid and wool, merging her personal connections to filmmaking and the textile techniques of tatreez and Al Sadu.

In this series of weavings, Tahir wraps yarn around sprocket holes of 35mm filmstrips to form colourful geometric patterns with open-ended edges, occasionally leaving a few frames uncovered to reveal glowing windows of still images. The filmstrips are outtakes from Tahir’s independent work Int’maa (2018) as well as older commercial film trailers gleaned from a local theatre’s projection booth, including trailers from the Canadian cult classics I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) directed by Patricia Rozema and Bollywood/Hollywood (2002) directed by Deepa Mehta. While the machine-processed film surfaces are clear and glossy, Tahir’s hand-treated footage is cloudy and distressed from being immersed in oil and bleach, an experimental film technique she learned from Toronto-based filmmaker Eva Kolcze. In every weaving, celluloid forms varying structures beneath varying wool and consequently, film images are hidden or unhidden depending on what Tahir decides we can view. In Tahir’s hands, weaving becomes a form of film editing, drawing our attention to how women’s labour and resourcefulness cuts across cinema, art and craft.

Tahir’s weaving practice is inspired by childhood memories of her mother’s knitting, sewing and tatreez, an ancient embroidery technique traditionally practiced by Palestinian women and girls. Tatreez brings together specific colours and motifs to represent different stages of an individual’s life, regional differences and class differences. As a delicate and refined art form, tatreez plays an important role in preserving and passing on Palestinian history and heritage. While honouring the memories of her mother crafting, Tahir notes that the particular techniques she employs for the works in this exhibition are closer to Al Sadu, the Bedouin style which is woven for durability to withstand the nomadic living and desert conditions which shaped her life in Sudan, Kuwait and Egypt, before moving to Canada. Informed by a moving range of memories and geographies, I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing meditates on the complexities of craft and placehood, preservation and resistance. Through and through, Tahir’s weavings are a process of splicing echoes.

About the Artist

Born in Kuwait to Sudanese parents, Rolla Tahir is a filmmaker and director of photography currently based in Toronto. She’s lensed short, narrative and experimental films, which screened across Canada and internationally, including the UK, the United States and Guatemala. Obsessed with the durability, longevity and spontaneity of the analog film medium, Tahir has worked with Super 8, 16mm and 35mm to explore the analog process and its possibilities. Tahir’s short experimental film “Sira” was selected to screen at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival and she is currently in pre-production for her first feature film, “Jude and the Jinn”.

About the Curator

Lesley Loksi Chan is a multidisciplinary artist and artistic director of Centre[3] for Artistic and Social Practice. Concerned with invisibility, believability and resistibility, her work has been exhibited internationally including at the Images Festival (Toronto), Vancouver International Film Festival, International Festival of Films on Art (Montreal), British Film Institute (London, UK), Museo de Cine Autobiográfico (Vigo, Spain) and Anthology Film Archives (New York). As Centre[3]’s Artistic Director, she oversees exhibitions, residencies and arts-based projects with a focus on collaborative, experimental and anti-oppressive practices in contemporary art.

Centre[3] for Artistic and Social Practice
173 James Street North
Hamilton, Ontario
L8R 2K9

Instagram: @centre3_
Facebook: @centre3
Twitter: @centre3

Media Contact:

Land Acknowledgement: Centre[3] for Artistic and Social Practice acknowledges that its organization, located in Hamilton, is on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations whose presence here reaches back to time immemorial. Centre[3] recognizes the historical oppression of Indigenous peoples, cultures and lands in what is now known as Canada and is committed to healing and decolonizing together through the arts.

Accessibility: Our 173 James North location is partially physically accessible. We have a level entrance leading to our galleries, shop, information desk, washroom and the traditional print studio. Unfortunately, we do not have automatic doors or an elevator. We are working toward becoming a fully physically accessible space.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Hamilton.