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Art exhibitions have often been seen as inaccessible happenings of high culture that can potentially alienate some communities. However, the Esker Foundation’s current exhibition is trying to change that narrative.

RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting is a group exhibition currently being showcased at the Esker Foundation in Calgary.

Diaspora is a term used to describe the scattering of various communities and people away from their established or ancestral homelands. The exhibition features 27 artists all from varying cultural backgrounds and focuses on their explorations of the diasporic experience.

“Ooloi Ciguapa (mass pedigrees of masterpieces unsold),” from Firelei Báez (@fireleibaez). In this piece, the Brooklyn-based artist subverts the traditional meanings of the Ciguapa, a figure from Dominican mythology, to reinvent its symbolism. PHOTO: LILY DUPUIS.

Cheryl Sim, managing director of the PHI Foundation in Montreal, writes in A Confluence of Relations, that this exhibition is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead is meant to “open up ideas and encourage dialogue.”

Jill Henderson, marketing and communications lead at the Esker Foundation, explains that Sim worked on the curation of this show for 15 years to ensure a range of voices.

“It’s a real pleasure to have 27 artists represented here. There are some artists who are later in their careers, some in the middle and others that are just beginning,” says Henderson. 

“Having that mixture is really incredible for the artists themselves, but also for the viewer.” 

 “Chiromancies” is a series of works by Canadian-Congolese artist, Moridja Kitenge Banza (@moridjakitenge). Crafted with ink on mylar, the artist discovered the materials’ portability and practicality meant he could work whenever the mood struck. PHOTO: LILY DUPUIS.

From renowned artists like Yoko Ono, to up-and-coming Calgary-based artists such as Marigold Santos, Sim set out to showcase the exploration of diaspora through time and personal experiences.

Accentuating Sim’s passion for this project, there is an interactive learning portion for visitors. Guests can scan a QR code on the museum label next to each piece and listen to the curator discuss the artists, their backgrounds and the work’s meaning. 

Calgary-based artist and tattooist, Marigold Santos (@marigoldasantos), has four pieces on display in the exhibition, two of which have never been exhibited prior. PHOTO: LILY DUPUIS

Diane Fung, gallery visitor and artist by trade, says, “I feel like the audio recordings have also added a new layer to our experience.” 

Fung explains that this exhibition is unlike the often exclusive and intimidating feel of art galleries.

“Art doesn’t have to be stuffy or in a museum. It doesn’t have to be elitist, it can be very affordable and accessible for anyone.”

Admission is always free, however the bookshop offers a variety of art related goods for purchase. PHOTO: LILY DUPUIS

With accessibility at the forefront of the Esker Foundation’s purpose, admission is always free and iPads are available for borrowing at the front desk to explore the exhibition’s QR codes.

RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting is ongoing at the Esker Foundation until Nov. 27.

The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The front desk is where iPads can be borrowed in order to explore the QR codes on the museum labels. PHOTO: LILY DUPUIS.

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