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How Does Our Heritage Affect Our Art?

Our culture is an inheritance, passed down to each of us through those who came before. It’s something that we both treasure and struggle with, often at the same time. Visual artists can articulate and celebrate this process in a unique way.

Sometimes, art is clearly an expression of cultural heritage, as was the case with our recent show Colours of South Asia: Transformation, which can still be viewed in our 3D gallery. But heritage can still play a role even when artists aren’t explicitly asked to draw on it. We asked our members how their art might be influenced by their heritage and received a range of answers:

Caravans of Truth drawing by Kulpreet Rana
Caravans of Truth by Kulpreet Rana

Kulpreet Rana: India

"In my Art, I always inspired and analyzed the social systems of the world. Visual art gives voice to my emotions, my thoughts and my inspirations. Every social structure influences religious, political and economic conditions. I was born in India in the north region. I saw what is happening with society in cultures, different indignities of people, castes, discrimination of peoples etc. I inspired from dalit history and peoples . Since I was a master's student, I created artwork under the theme of “historical events of untouchables”. It was the beginning of my research in my visual field. My works take a critical view of social, political and cultural issues. I have been influenced by the environmental aesthetics of society. Subject matter in my Artworks always revolves around the social matrix.

When I shifted to Canada. As an Artist, I am more dialectic between the memories of the back home left behind and the day-to-day struggles of learning the ropes of a new society. For a couple of years, I painted Portraits and subjects that influenced my Visual Arts. During the corona period, I stayed connected to my back-home society through social media."

Simorgh’s first flight dimorphism by Pardis Aliakbarkhani
Simorgh’s first flight dimorphism by Pardis Aliakbarkhani

Pardis Aliakbarkhani: Iran

"I am Iranian-Canadian and my creative expressions—be it my paintings, my poetry, or my handmade jewelry—are all heavily informed by that reality. I am inspired by Persian lore and history of the past, while also being driven by the living history of my family and homeland. As I am not able to travel to Iran, I connect with and pay homage to my ancestors through cooking, through art, and through music. Whether I create a piece that embraces the mystism of ancient Persia or critiques the extremist regime of today, I feel strongly that it is a means to remember my roots in the East while I blossom here in the West."

Mehtaab Wachhair with her paintings inspired by The Sikh Holy Scripture
Mehtaab Wachhair with her paintings inspired by The Sikh Holy Scripture

Mehtaab Wachhair: India

"Born in a devout Sikh family full of cultural values, and raised in India in Chandigarh, the City beautiful, known for its beautiful nature, architecture, and art, I believe my artwork is highly influenced by the respective heritage I lived in. I love to create art by incorporating nature and hymns from the “Guru Granth Sahib Ji”(The Sikh Holy Scripture) and using its values as motivation and inspiration for my work. The art I create showcases the meanings of the hymns from the scripture and adds beauty and serenity to the environment of people's houses and workplaces."

Abandoned log farmhouse, Haliburton, Ontario. Photo by Frank Meyers
Abandoned log farmhouse, Haliburton, Ontario. Photo by Frank Meyers

Frank Myers: the British Isles

“Both my parents' families came from the British Isles. My father's family emigrated in 1815 and I am descended from their baby who was born on board ship in the middle of the Atlantic. We've always celebrated this fact and the family's history as early settlers farming in the area north of Kingston, Ontario.

Could this heritage have influenced my artistic pursuits? From my earliest days as a photographer, I've been drawn to capture images that show the passage of time. I explore many types of abandoned places, but farmhouses are a frequent subject. I feel keenly aware these were family homes for multiple generations and I'm particularly attuned to evidence that suggests something of the lives once lived there.”

Primary 2 painting by Jasmine Rock
Primary 2 by Jasmine Rock

Jasmine Rock: Barbados

“I initially assumed that I had nothing to contribute to this post. I make unemotional abstracts that have very little to do with anything as human as culture, but then I really considered it:

Both sides of my family are from the tiny Caribbean island of Barbados. Whenever I visit, I love to see the colourful painted houses: shades of red, blue, yellow, green, orange and pink are welcome alongside neutral whites. This is but one example of how Barbadian culture isn’t afraid of vibrant colour and I think I’ve inherited that.

But I know that Barbados is not where my heritage story really starts. My ancestors are likely from somewhere in western Africa. My Mom and I have been told by several strangers we look Nigerian, so it’s possible that we’re Yoruba. They were one of the many groups that were taken to the island, but without testing or research, I can’t be sure.

Recently, I started researching the history of Barbados and the Yoruba people for a personal project and learned several interesting facts. For instance, fractal geometry is part of their art and architecture, as it is for groups in many parts of Africa. I don’t use fractals in my work, but I am obsessed with pattern, repetition and geometric designs. Could this culture be the source? I admit that I was excited by the idea. But can you be affected by a heritage you’re not even sure you can claim?”

DYSMORPHIA by April Bhamra
DYSMORPHIA by April Bhamra

April Bhamra: India

"I never had strong connection with my heritage and as grew older, that connection faded more and more to a point where it has become feelings of estrangement and rejection. Although I do see the value in heritage and culture, my personal experiences made me reject it as a whole.

As an art practice my heritage and culture are not expressed in my creative process or creations. Initially, my work explored the aesthetics of femininity but moved to capture spirit like subjects unattached to worldly realities. As I begin to feel more unattached with my locus in this world, I realized my art reflects my experiences of disconnect. Recently, I have started to exploring these feelings by incorporating my spirit like subjects within the ambiance of ambiguous spaces. I like to create art that is unattached to culture and society to express the universal feeling of not belonging.

On a positive note however, I sometimes think that my subconscious attraction to highly ornate and decorative imagery may have sprouted from the rich embellished South Asian aesthetic....just a speculation."

Books on Venice, a Carnivale costume & the painting Diving Deep by Josephine Condotta
Books on Venice, a Carnivale costume & the painting Diving Deep by Josephine Condotta

Josephine Condotta: Veneto, Italy

“It was only a few weeks ago, while flipping through the pages of a book, when I realized that my cultural heritage just may play a bigger role in my artistic practice than I thought. All four of my grandparents came across the ocean to Canada from the province Treviso, just northwest of the city Venice, in the region of Veneto, Italy. This northern region of Italy is known for its gondola rides and canals, its architecture, Murano glass, and the annual masquerade festival, “Carnivale”. Although I’ve only ever visited Venice and my grandparents’ home town of Istrana once in my life so far — it instantly felt like home.

Flipping through the pages of “Timeless Venice,” I saw similarities in my artworks that now seem inextricably tied to my roots: hues of turquoise, dark blue, whites and off-whites, along embellishes of gold seem to always find their way into my pieces like a Carnivale costume. Not to mention the vertical lines and artwork orientations that seem to mimic the tall buildings and pillars. Even my first solo exhibition was a series of cityscapes and their reflection onto water, like the way the Venice lights glow and shimmer on the canals. I now wonder if these colour schemes and elements of design have found their way into my artwork creations through the subconscious links to my cultural heritage.“

Thank you to our members who shared some of their history, to the Arts & Culture Initiative of South Asia (ACISA) and our other partners for this vibrant show! The relationship between our heritage and our artwork can be complex. It can influence our artistic choices in unexpected ways, from our colour palette and subject matter to style and inspire so much contemplation.


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