URBAN MYTHS & MODERN FABLES at the Doris McCarthy Gallery (U of T Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail), to May 11. 416-287-7007. Rating: NNN
Fine-detailed miniature paintings of kings, gods and demons, vibrant colours, rhythmic floral and geometric repeat patterns – these are elements we associate with South Asian art. Urban Myths & Modern Fables, a show from Sydney, Australia, features 11 contemporary artists from the South Asian diaspora who subvert these aesthetic traditions to comment on issues of displacement, war and gender in a post-9/11 world.
Some of the most compelling works use the techniques of the miniature. Khadim Ali, a member of the persecuted Hazara ethnic group from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, where the Taliban blew up the giant Buddha sculptures, contributes a delicately painted and devastating series that incorporates calligraphy and images of planes and soldiers from Afghan children’s drawings.
Sabeen Raja’s miniatures appear traditional at first glance, but her mythical figures are vehicles for a humorous exploration of modern sexuality. Buraq: How I Got My Wings Back makes the winged horse with a woman’s head into a celebration of female sexual self-confidence, and a Mughal-style portrait of a pensive man in lavender pants is call How Do I Tell My Wife I’m Gay?
Toronto’s Tazeen Qayyum paints delicate cockroaches, some embellished with floral patterns, some tagged with names of cities in Iraq and Afghanistan, pinned like specimens in entomology displays.
Alia Toor’s 99 Names Of Amman (Arabic for “security”) is a group of paper dust masks embroidered with 99 Arabic names of Allah in gold thread, calling up multiple associations of fear, disease and the veil.
Henna Nadeem’s collages, hand-cut in South Asian patterns from calendar-style landscape photos, transform clichéd images into unearthly scenes where fragments of mountains float in the sky.
Though not everything in the show is equally successful, the art hangs together well, providing a vivid and varied portrait of young South Asian artists in the 21st century.