/ARCHIVE — 2013
/mona sharma — the loss and reclamation of faith
/Drawing inspiration from tensions induced by her diverse background, MONA SHARMA’s goal is to foster a more critical understanding of how we form as individuals and function as a society. Through her narrative works, she aims to reveal, mislead and build towards a moment in which viewers realize their role in shaping, supporting or suppressing those around them.
/MONA SHARMA is a Montréal-based artist of South Asian descent. She works primarily in soft sculpture and digital drawing. She has exhibited in artist-run centres across Canada.
THE LOSS AND RECLAMATION OF FAITH – MONA SHARMA
Glance quickly at Mona Sharma’s installation, Loss and Reclamation of Faith, and your first impression will be, “this is just FUN!” The eye is dazzled by a scale shift from miniaturized to larger-than-life and amazing objects: bright, buoyant, and vivid – soft sculptures suggesting nothing so much as toddlers’ toys scaled up, or a craft-class rag-bag because YES! that parrot’s cage and that chain link fence are built of pipe cleaners . . . This is just fun. Oh. Wait . . . dead fish. Bodies inside a car? Scrawl on a brick wall: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. A little old lady on a funeral pyre . . .
This is just . . . What is this?
Darkly humorous, intensely felt, and vehemently playful. In The Loss and Reclamation of Faith, Montreal-born-and-based, multi-disciplinary artist Mona Sharma has unwound memory and painstakingly hand-stitched it into colour-saturated, three-dimensional forms. Seeking to disrupt conceptualist and formalist complacencies, the work is injected with an informed naiveté that stands in direct opposition to the affectation of irony (different than the real thing).
Make it cheap. Make it by hand, with what's at hand. Make it alone. Make it piecemeal. Make it slow, but get it done. In seeming contradiction to the labour-intensive processes involved, Sharma claims immediacy and adaptability are the reasons she works with soft sculpture, which seems to contradict her labour-intensive processes. To oppose romantic hearkenings back to notions of genius and the hand-made, Sharma cites her most direct influence as being her mother’s work as a seamstress on small-scale uniform production.
Loss and Reclamation of Faith took two years to make and the long labour shows. The result is a temporal flash-fragment of an internal world: streams of dead fish – the ship MV Sun Sea arriving full of Tamil refugees – Rani, her deceased pet parrot - the Nissan Sentra containing bodies of murdered Shafia girls – her Punjabi grandmother’s funeral pyre – her own husband, Danny, asleep in bed. All these images and memories co-exist momentarily under the gaze of an artist-as-a-young-girl, dressed in a Catholic school uniform.
Delighting in mimesis, but far from straightforwardly illustrative, Sharma’s cosmology functions within parameters of the artist’s internal logic and is purposefully inviting. Sharma remarks, “When someone walks through the show, I want them to feel like they're not walking alone.”1 She recalls a galvanizing encounter in her studio, during which an outraged visitor told her she had no right to portray the Shafia girls’ bodies inside the car. This showed callous disrespect for the girls’ families, Sharma was told, and yet the girls had been murdered by their family. The visitor obviously was misled due to things unsaid.
Sharma’s art is driven by a need to reveal the unsaid. Frustrated by conventions that maintain secrets, Sharma’s work questions conditions that frame discussion of our collective experiences. Exuberance represented by her art means to upend reactions to culturally pluralistic work, which is often expressed as either “depressing and dreary things happening to other people that we can’t bear / bother to think about,” or “dutiful and deferential respect for depressing, yet culturally legitimate things we’re not supposed to criticize.” Sharma’s work intends to reduce the distance between these extremes to avoid hurtful misunderstandings and entrapment in bland and barren cultural relations.
Today, we own the world in common. It is a time of hybridized identities, when uprooted diasporas increasingly represent the norm rather than the exception. Immigrants from disparate cultures can share more common points of reference with each other than with their own extended families. So we are left with the challenge of determining what we will weave our stories out of.
Loss and Reclamation of Faith meets the challenge by mapping complex cross-cultural narratives and starting questions like: How might we avoid misinterpreting and misrepresenting other cultures?; How might we take responsible and respectful action?; and, How do we extend conversations beyond art world tautologies while embracing its complex relational instabilities?
Sharma’s personal experiences inform her work’s mapping and question processes. Uprooted during the 1947 partition that established East and West Pakistan as Islamic states, Mona’s maternal family was forced to move to the town of Kapurthala in the Indian province of Punjab, where her paternal grandfather worked tending the grounds of the king’s palace. Sharma’s sprawling stories are reference-laden with memory, songs, stand-up comedy, family history, politics, and her day job as a medical illustrator.
And so not-so-finally we get:
. . . Rona, Geeti, Zainab, and Sahar Shafia, dead in the Rideau Canal. The pipe-cleaner cage houses Rani, who lived with Mona for seventeen years. Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet – the hoarse refrain sung by a homeless man in London – a song caught by a curious filmmaker2 morphs into graffiti Mona catches on a wall of the abandoned Redpath Refinery on Lachine Canal. Mona’s child-self fishes from a man-hole. A ship ashore after many months at sea – 492 Sri Lankans – 63 women – 49 children.3 But Justice Sean Harrington says claimant B472 “was found to be a liar,” while B323 was not “credible.”4 And Mr. 472? Economic migrant. Smuggler. Terrorist. Criminals. Not refugees – Harper – protects – us from fake refugees – but . . . now . . . leaked World Bank documents show, after the last battle in the war against the Tamils, 101,748 people are simply missing from the Mullaitivu District of Sri Lanka.5 We didn’t know. We didn’t notice the civilian safe zones being shelled, or the hospitals targeted. Gone. Hot-house flowers knock their heads on the ceiling and salmon swim up turbines’ blades. It’s 1980: Danny sleeps. Streams choke with death as Mt. St. Helen’s 80 000 foot eruption instantaneously melts glaciers into mud. Maya Devi Sharma, ‘Bebe’, rests on her funeral pyre.
To return to, what is this?
Sharma’s Loss and Reclamation of Faith is not a hushed but a loud thing – a roar, in fact. It is beauty bound by dream logic and tempered with knowledge and bluntness. This is a misfit’s myths mutating.
1 In conversation with the artist.
/BEATRIZ HERRERA is a Montréal-based artist and luddite who loves robots. Her practice explores the absurdist paradoxes of our high-tech age through robotics, drawing and writing.