New exhibition ‘of longing & songbirds’ coming to Union Gallery

Theme of sustainability umbrellas the gallery’s current exhibits

The exhibition is inspired by a Moroccan berber tent.
Supplied by Union Gallery

Union Gallery is set to open a new exhibition, of longing and songbirds, to the public on Oct 4. 

This installation showcases art made by Rihab Essayh, a Moroccan-Canadian artist and recent Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) graduate from the University of Guelph.

The installation is composed of a large-scale sculptural tent. One exhibit, “Longing for a choir of sparrows at dusk,” is made from polyester voile and has been coloured with spray paint to resemble the Guelph sunsets Essayh loves deeply. 

With soundscapes of birds chirping in the early hours of the morning and several large floor pillows made from hand-dyed cotton velvet, batting, upholstery foam, muslin, and a zipper, the installation matches the gallery’s theme of sustainability for 2022-23. 

Essayh felt inspired to create this piece during the 2021 lockdown, during the second semester of her Master’s degree. Living alone at the time, she craved a space that was welcoming, warm, and soothing during this difficult period of isolation.

“I also wanted the space to be temporal, as in, not a permanent space,” Essayh said in an interview with The Journal. “I needed the solution to my problems to seem barely there to show myself that the problems I was facing were also minute.”

The artist used her experience in isolation to create a work that’s “purposefully tactile during a time when we couldn’t touch each other, as a way to combat these feelings of isolation.”

During these periods of isolation, Essayh found solace in the natural sights and sounds of Guelph, Ontario. She recounted memories of watching sunsets and hearing the birds chirp in the early morning, saying “they became my therapy.”

Now, she invites Union Gallery visitors to “lay down at their freedom and for their pleasure in a space of gathering.”

According to Essayh, the tent in this exhibition offers a space for visitors to “bathe in colour, and recuperate” rather than a traditional Berber tent’s protective purpose. 

Its design is based on a Moroccan Berber tent. The Berber people are group of nomadic Indigenous people who usually travel with tents made of a carpet-like fabric with planks of wood that hold up the single sheet. These tents are easily packable and movable to fit their lifestyle.

Essayh’s work represents the broader theme of sustainability that Union Gallery is seeking to explore over the next year.

 “Our wellbeing and sustainability as an organization, and as arts workers are important, and sometimes we forget to prioritize these things,” Program Director Abby Nowakowski told The Journal.

“We need to make sure that we are functioning humans so that we can provide for our community.”

In particular, Union Gallery is exploring the conservation of human energy and resources, as opposed to environmental sustainability. It’s in direct response to the tolls that the pandemic, and the accompanying periods of isolation, took on our world.

Union Gallery’s commitment to human sustainability compliments Essayh’s work well. She wants visitors to experience a space of reckoning, softening, emotionality, and elevation that aligns with their adherence to sustainability for artists, and arts workers.

Union Gallery and Rihab Essayh will be offering a Slow Stitch Workshop on Oct. 1 from noon to 2 p.m. followed by an open preview reception from 2 to 3:30 p.m. 

Interested parties can see the exhibition starting Oct. 4 at the Union Gallery.

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