A line in the press release for Egyptian artist Nadia Gohar’s most recent exhibition at The Table in Toronto, Canada reads: ‘It is important to consider the dimensions of one’s inherited identity and the ways in which it may have been produced and reproduced.’ Gohar’s work combines sculpture and painting to touch upon her own experiences living in Egypt and Canada. Gallery Girl spoke to Gohar about memory, heritage and the art scene in Toronto.
Mobile, Gohar’s exhibition at The Table explores different facets of a hyphenated identity. ‘This body of work considers familiar spaces and objects in order to recall things experienced and things remembered’, says Gohar. Born and raised in Cairo and moving to Toronto in 2012, it is understandable that she would feel somewhat detached from her homeland. Centred around a video she made of her grandmother this summer, The Table show combined video and sculptural work as well as a dinner that Gohar served amongst her artwork.
The space in which Gohar’s most recent work has been displayed is a special one. An initiative run by Brittany Shepherd, The Table takes an intimate approach to exhibition facilitation by curating a monthly program of site-specific installations and events in a private setting and disseminating the evidence on virtual platforms, with guests at The Table being asked to document their experience themselves and post it online. Scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, you can see images of Gohar’s grandmother preparing dolma in Egypt in the same space as a mobile from which butterfly wings are suspended from a structure that also dangles gold charms and clothes hangers. This mobile consists of a silicone mold which the butterfly is attached to, various found pieces of paper, hangers, a casting of a dragonfly, wax candles, horse brass in the shape of a superstitious hand, and a plastic bag containing containing gum arabic, also known as acacia gum
Only a few days ago, Gohar officially became a Canadian citizen, which she describes as ‘re-inscribing’ her identity. ‘After parting from a place regarded as a point of origin and as the time/distance grows, that place starts to feel like a partial fabrication of memory’ she says, ‘The ways in which I know how to deal with this rift is through my work.’ Thus we see Cairo’s strong influence across Gohar’s oeuvre and social media feeds, with images of her homeland constantly being pasted across a plethora of media, both artistically and virtually: ‘By reclaiming and reprocessing the habits, objects, and language displaced through migration, I am able to transform these things into tangible forms.’ This is shown through two-dimensional paintings morphing into three-dimensional sculptural works.
Gohar tries to return to Cairo every year, with her entire extended family still living there. And, while she is yet to exhibit in Egypt, after hitherto suppressing references to her origins in her work, she is beginning to insert her birthplace: ‘For a while it seems like I subdued my heritage in my work. More recently and especially given the current political climate, it naturally resurfaced.’ The distance between Egypt and Canada has spurred Gohar to connect with other artists from the Middle East and North Africa online, both those who live at home as well as abroad: ‘It’s great to be able to find a community online’ she says, ‘I am currently working towards curating an exhibition of work by artists from the MENA region, as well as archiving art from the region in a publication.’
It may surprise some, especially from the online images of Mobile, to learn that Gohar originally started as a painter. ‘Often, I’ve felt the paintings to be a study that precedes the sculptures’, she says, ‘Generally the medium I choose to work with is more of a vehicle, secondary to the subject. I find that I naturally shift between painting and sculpture, and that my best work happens through this pendulum-like notion.’ Gohar’s pastel shaded paintings illustrate many different objects, much like the hanging sculptures at The Table, fusing influences from East and West and, while Gohar describes the paintings as ‘studies’, they are powerful works of art in their own right.
So, what does Gohar make of the art scene in Toronto? ‘The art scene is definitely growing, fast’, she says, listing The Table, Little Sister, Bunker 2 and 8 Eleven as the top project based initiatives and artist-run spaces to see, ‘All of these spaces push curatorial boundaries by generating a broader dialogue throughout the community.’ It would appear then, that Toronto is a great place for Gohar to present her work in an environment that will generate conversation.
With the prospect of curating her own exhibition and of drawing more deeply on inherited memories and the departure from home within her own artwork, Nadia Gohar is definitely one to watch.