The Nanaimo Art Gallery is wrapping up its yearlong inquiry, ‘What are generations?’ with an exhibition by Vancouver-based photographer and recent Governor General’s Award recipient Sandra Semchuk.
In her show, A Generational Retrospective, opening at the NAG on Feb. 6 and running until April 5, Semchuk and NAG curator Jesse Birch have assembled a collection of photographs and video work spanning the ’70s to the present day, including new pieces created specifically for this show.
Many of the photographs are what Semchuk calls “co-operative self-portraits,” taken with family members. But she said the pictures are about more than just her.
“I use myself as a way to consider larger issues,” she explained. “Particularly, how we come to know one another or how we come to see one another from person to person and within our families and within different cultures and across species.”
Semchuk said people have “an enormous difficulty” in coming to know and relate with one another and it’s questions around that dilemma that she investigates in her work.
“The art of coming to know each other across cultures is crucial to our very survival,” she said. “So, one, how do we come to see ourselves? And how do we come to see someone else? … How do we know when we’re projecting on someone else or another species or someone we care about? How do we simply come to know someone? What does real intimacy look like?”
Birch has been following Semchuk for more than 20 years and said that her body of work fits well with the gallery’s thematic inquiry.
“Throughout her practice there’s been a thread of work where she’s collaborated with people of different generations in her family, through her friends, through other people in the community,” he said. “And that intention to communicate through art across generations was something that is so perfect for this year.”
The day before the show closes on April 5 Semchuk will return to the NAG for a launch and reading from her new book. The Stories Were Not Told, a project 12 years in the making, examines Canada’s First World War internment camps through photographs and interviews with descendants of internees. Semchuk said she felt “compelled” to write the book after learning about the internments and needing to “figure it out.”
She said the book relates to the exhibition’s idea of the importance of dialogue for identity.
“It’s in dialogue that we are negotiating identity with someone else and if the stories are suppressed, then we tend to buy into dominant narratives of who we can be,” Semchuk said. “So it opens up and loosens up identity so that we can be more specific and nuanced and understand why we carry certain kinds of … trauma or strength or resilience. It opens up possibilities of understanding more deeply and authentically who we are.”
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for A Generational Retrospective takes place at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. Show runs until April 5. Book launch and reading for The Stories Were Not Told happens at the gallery on April 4 at 1 p.m.