Main Space
Jamelie Hassan
At the Far Edge of Words
Aug 24, 2012 - Oct 14, 2012

Curated by Melanie Townsend Organized by Museum London
Generously supported by Salah Bachir and Jacob Yerex

Opening reception: September 7, 8-10pm

This survey exhibition traces four decades of art-making by London, Ontario artist Jamelie Hassan and presents a body of work that intertwines her enduring interests in text, language, memory, personal history, and identity.

Her pioneering practice steadfastly asserts that artists have a responsibility to address the critical issues of our time, while her geographical location in the ‘regions’ of Southwestern Ontario grounds her practice.  Yet despite the influence of here, Hassan’s work is equally influenced by there—as experienced through her research and travels in Asia, the Americas and the Middle East, and Lebanon, the homeland of her parents.

At the Far Edge of Words features important works from throughout the artist’s career. Common Knowledge, 1980-81, a mixed media installation comprised of ceramic objects and watercolour paintings, documents and replicates items of significance from Hassan’s domestic environment: the jawbone of a caribou, a sardine can, curls of Birch bark, books, letters, a flower—all personal momentos of her life. The work is among the earliest pieces inspired by her heightened focus on the everyday. Among the watercolour paintings are facsimiles of rejection letters from the Department of Immigration, denying her grandmother and uncles entry into Canada, marking the introduction of family history into her work.

Hassan’s first film project, The Oblivion Seekers, 1985, began with a childhood memory and a search through private and public archives. The film juxtaposes archival and family film footage of celebratory dancing and singing, seamlessly moving between sites in Canada, the United States, Lebanon and Egypt, and is a powerful record of individual identity situated against the backdrop of political tension in the world.

The exhibition also includes photographic documentation of Hassan’s watershed installation, at London, Ontario’s Forest City Gallery, Beyrouth… is war art?, 1980. Here black and white images that document a destroyed wall at the artist-run centre are juxtaposed with images from Beirut, Lebanon, photographed by Hassan during the country’s civil war in 1979. Neon has also featured prominently in Hassan’s more recent works. The exhibition includes several new neon works— ى(Manuscript Page) 2005, ن    2009 and dar’a, 2010—created in response to an Arabic/Persian manuscript.

Over the course of her career, Hassan’s approach to artmaking has been distinguished by her use of a wide range of media (ceramics, watercolours, bookworks, photographs, video, and installations) from which she selects an approach best suited to the task at hand. Watercolours, for example—swift and portable and comprising much of the work she makes when travelling—capture the immediacy of personal engagement. At the Far Edge of Words includes early paintings from travels in the late 1970s; Qana, Lebanon, 2006, a series of newer ink drawings created in response to the Israeli bombings of the Lebanese town; and a series of watercolour paintings, entitled Curfew, 2007, created in response to the curfews imposed in Rangoon by Burma’s military dictatorship.

The title of the exhibition, At the Far Edge of Words, pays homage to Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish, evoking a line from his poem, “I am from there”.  The poem begins “I am from there. I have memories,” concluding: “I learned all the talk and dismantled it to construct one word: country.”

Hassan’s work is represented in numerous private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa); the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto); the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery (Vancouver); the Art Gallery of Windsor (Windsor); The McIntosh Gallery (London); and Museum London among many others. In 2001, she was a recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Award in Media and Visual Arts.

Melanie Townsend