“I position myself as a settler and an immigrant. For me, the privilege of living in Southern Ontario comes with a responsibility towards the communities here, particularly the Indigenous peoples to whom this land belongs.
I’m not interested in communicating a fixed identity or message through my work as an artist. Diasporic experiences and relations to place are inherently multifaceted and complex. My hope is to be able to convey some of those complexities through my work” - Abedar Kamgari, 2020.
Abedar Kamgari, My mother doesn’t drink tea anymore (installation and interactive performance), 2016. Photo taken by Herbet Fodor at Hamilton Artists Inc.
Abedar Kamgari is a Hamilton-based independent curator and arts administrator whose practice probes the intricacies of diaspora and the condition of being (dis)placed. Politics of assimilation, access, and belonging are embodied in her site responsive practice as her relational approaches to video and performance art unfurl these themes in public and private settings.
Kamgari gathered memories from family members for Another Country (2017), activating their recollections as a map to guide her through her birth country of Iran. We see the artist touching the exposed soil of Abidar Mountain in a frame pulled from the work’s three-channel video. This tactile connection visualizes the artist’s complex relationship with the land through a direct interaction with it. Her touch is mediated by her shared namesake with the landmark as well as her prior knowledge of the region, an inherited cultural relationship.
Migration is also embodied by the artist’s ongoing project, Finding words for the feeling. Kamgari mobilizes “an object with a history” in this site-specific performance-for-video as she moves herself, and the object, across familiar and unfamiliar locations. The object leaves traces of itself on the land, etching temporary tracks onto each surface it meets. This constant state of movement leaves traces on Kamgari as well, exhausting her body in the process. The work attests to the hardships of movement, imagining it as an activity of mutual transformation, an altering of mobile forms and the spaces through which they move.
To learn more about Abedar Kamgari and her oeuvre in her own words, tune in to our upcoming Artist Talk debuting on February 12, 2021.
Abedar Kamgari, Another Country (video still), 2017. Three-channel video with sound, 80 minutes 0 seconds.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Was there a specific moment when you, as an artist, knew that you needed to create work that engaged with diasporic themes? Was this always a goal in your practice or did you gradually integrate these themes into your work? A: I have lived in three countries, five cities, and nineteen different houses. My experiences of movement and migration through these spaces has certainly informed my perspective as an artist. One time during my undergrad, a classmate remarked that I have an accent when speaking English. I shrugged off the encounter. Since English isn’t my first language, I didn’t care much if I spoke it with an accent. A few months later, however, a family member told me that I have an accent when speaking Farsi, my mother tongue. This time the encounter wasn’t as easily shrugged off since it meant that I have accents in the only two languages I speak. The whole thing set off a major identity crisis for me and the beginnings of my interest in exploring the social and cultural aspects of diasporic experiences through my work.
Q: The Greater Toronto Area has become a cultural crossroad for a rich diversity of peoples from across the globe. How do you identify/position yourself as an artist in this context engaging with themes of diaspora in 2020? What are the messages surrounding this identity and current themes of belonging that you try to convey or amplify in your practice? A: I position myself as a settler and an immigrant. For me, the privilege of living in Southern Ontario comes with a responsibility towards the communities here, particularly the Indigenous peoples to whom this land belongs.
I’m not interested in communicating a fixed identity or message through my work as an artist. Diasporic experiences and relations to place are inherently multifaceted and complex. My hope is to be able to convey some of those complexities through my work.
Q: Your practice often crosses disciplinary boundaries between art, curation, and administration in Ontario. How do you navigate representations of displacement and diaspora beyond your personal art practice? Do gallery and administrative spaces need to shift their approach toward diasporic issues in the exhibition of Canadian art? A: The lack of representation of diasporic practices in contemporary art exhibitions is the reason I began curating in 2016. Since then, carving space for Black, Indigenous, and artists of colour has been my biggest priority as an arts administrator in the artist-run sector. Of course, racialized artists have been advocating for greater representation and opportunities for decades, so while it’s an incredibly pertinent issue it is not new.
Arts spaces serve a social and political function. They need to be responsive to their communities and the important issues of our day. Though ultimately, I simply want racialized diasporic artists to be supported in making art about whatever topic they choose.
Abedar Kamgari, Finding words for the feeling (video still), 2017-ongoing. Two-channel video with sound, 30 minutes 0 seconds. Photo taken at Blackwood Gallery by Toni Hafkenschied.
Abedar Kamgari, Cooking with Turmeric (participatory performance), 2018. Photo taken by Ivan Jurakic at the University of Waterloo.
To learn more about Kamgari’s artistic practice, you can view her website or follow her Instagram account.