Myth Marks makes move to decolonize museums

Student artist Pansee Atta intertwines historical research with artistic expression
A still of the animation Erasure
Image by: Ramna Safeer
A still of the animation Erasure

Myth Marks tries to reverse a history of colonized museum spaces.

The exhibition is a series of short animations compiled by Pansee Atta, BFA ’10 and current Masters student of Cultural Studies. They’ll be shown in full starting Oct. 2 at the Union Gallery.

Atta’s pieces blur the lines between academic research and art production. They draw inspiration from the research she’s done for her Masters thesis, which revolves around depictions of Muslim women of historic Islamic empires. 

She says the works are reactions to the way Islamic art is exhibited in contemporary museum and gallery spaces. They deal with this idea on the personal level of the Muslim diaspora, she said.

“A big part of these reactions has to do with seeing my culture and background, racialized and gendered bodies that look like mine, being misrepresented or represented in ways that are unrecognizable to me,” Atta said.

“I’m going to spaces and seeing stuff from the culture of my upbringing that makes no sense to me, and I’m trying to think about what that means on a larger scale.”

Prior to the exhibition’s opening reception on the evening of Oct. 2, the Union Gallery is showing one of Atta’s short experimental videos in their Project Room. 

The video is a visual representation of a historical manuscript, with two yellowed pages encompassing the frame. A single illegible signature is being signed repeatedly onto the page in dark ink until the screen is crowded with script.

An animation entitled Myth Marks being shown at the Union Gallery. (Photo by Ramna Safeer)

Atta says the installation is a reaction to a piece she saw in the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. 

She says the Aga Khan exhibit was structured to centre around paintings that had very legible and recognizable signatures on them. 

“I was thinking about who it is that historically has a signature of their own, and the sheer privilege of simply having a family name to put on a painting,” she said.

Historically, the process of creating many of these pieces typically involved several people, Atta said, although a single person may have signed the piece upon its completion.

“To centre those individual pieces around a particular person…is actually something those very artists would actively reject at the time.” 

Atta’s short videos are available online to view, download and experience outside of the conventional space of a museum. Atta said the possibility of engaging with the art outside the prescribed gallery walls extends the reach of her works.

For Atta, her work projects the types of representations of herself that she wants to see in a gallery about her culture — and therefore work to decolonize museum spaces.

“I’m putting my own body in the space, in a way, because I find myself missing from those spaces to begin with.”

The reception of Myth Marks will be held at the Union Gallery on Oct. 2, 5:30-7:30pm.

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