Inklings of an informed identity

Two artists explore the interconnectivity of place, space and identity through large scale drawings in Homelands

Dagmara Genda and Marigold Santos inform their practice with childhood memories of immigrating to Canada.
Image by: Justin Tang
Dagmara Genda and Marigold Santos inform their practice with childhood memories of immigrating to Canada.

Walking up the stairs to a freshly unveiled show at Modern Fuel always sways me to skip a couple steps. The Artist-Run Centre never fails to deliver and facilitate the presentation of innovative interdisciplinary material to the community.

Of the many mediums and methods I’ve encountered at the gallery, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to discover a glowing black light during my latest visit to the space.

Don’t let your mind wander to the grotto of a sticky-barred nightclub just yet; the black light belongs to the art of Marigold Santos, who together with Dagmara Genda have their exhibition Homelands splashed onto the white walls.

Entering the main space of the gallery, viewers will meet an intoxicating array of brushed line drawings staggered on the walls. In the exhibition’s accompanying text Donna-lee Iffla explains the ways visitors will engage “in a surreal exploration of a continuous search for the physical or fantastical notions of home.” The search in question is one that Genda and Santos carry out beautifully together, highlighting the role of place and space in the construction of identity and self.

Genda is a Saskatoon-based, Polish-Canadian artist and writer who works through examining inklings of nationalism, space and identity. It’s clear in her incredibly detailed and finite work that the subject of her pieces directly relate to her childhood immigration from Poland to Canada.

One of the first pieces encountered is “Palace of Culture III,” a moving and pulsating smorgasbord of architecture and limbs—human, animal and otherwise unidentifiable. Textured tusks, tails, flesh and hair wrap themselves in and around aspects of defining skyscraping features of The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw—the tallest building in Poland and a gift from the Soviet Union.

The piece hangs across from its cousins “II” and the smoky looking “VI”, a series that practically breathes as it destructs, rebuilds, curves, bites and pulses with a sense of urgency and vitality. The details of the piece are mutually divided and intertwined.

As the eye moves into and across Genda’s body of work, the horrific elements become more pronounced in her engaging drawings, where “The Communists” wrap around a central image, “Stalin and Cats.” Eerie Cheshire-like felines peek out and knot together with caricatured renders of Stalin as he lazes about, flops, smokes and stews in the grotesque wrinkled green, blue and purple arrangement of his own making.

As beautifully deformed as they are moving, Montreal-based, Philippine native Santos’ pieces speak to the intermingling and frequent coalescence of history and mythology. As animalistic creatures and folklore combine, the pieces give way to a greater understanding of the interconnectivity between space and identity.

By combining mythical and monstrous figures in her work she raises questions about where one begins and another ends, proposing notions of self and other, as well as differences in living within space.

Her piece, “Quiet Islands I,” speaks to this, demonstrating the connection between land, person and the impossibility to ignore the importance of our place.

Santos’ work, like Genda’s, has a dark element. In her piece, “Land Asuang,” Santos depicts an intricately detailed and complex image of her monster, which seems to be holding itself up by various parts of its body.

The counterpart to this piece, “Crystal Monster” is another aberrant rendering of crystals, amethyst and natural rock. The shards of crystal appear as though they’re forming over themselves and growing.

Similarly, in her black-light-enhanced and multi coloured, multi textured, “Forage”, greens, purple, grey and black dance across the wall giving way to a closer look at the finely brushed braids, rope and weaving accenting the piece. The counterpart piece is, “Dusk, ardor”, which immediately evokes sadness and anguish, with its expression of hurt and a splash of blood and bandages.

As I snapped into reality with my pencil breaking on the glow of my fluorescent purple page I realized how easily I had been sucked into the depth of the pieces—I could’ve easily stayed lost for hours while still leaving details to remain unseen.

Dagmara Genda and Marigold Santos will be presenting artist talks in the Education Tent of the Kingston Multi-Cultural Festival in Confederation Park tomorrow Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., followed by the opening reception of Homelands at Modern Fuel at 7 p.m.

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