This recent body of work by Sara Khan reverberates with multiple tensions: between absence and presence, attraction and repulsion, beauty and strangeness. The layers of these twinned forces are woven together through luxuriant compositions, creating emotive and narrative tendrils that draw the viewer deeper into Khan’s fantastical worlds.
The rich colour palate of Khan’s paintings has a magnetic quality that immediately beckons for close inspection. Looking closer, however, often reveals strange and unsettling details: a disembodied head spewing fish; bound feet and ankles suspended from a ceiling fan; human faces growing like flowers out of potted plants. These disconcerting elements may seem at odds with the delicate—even feminine—colours and patterns that dominate Khan’s work. But in effect, the concurrence of these elements together serves as a challenge to some of society’s gendered expectations of femininity and female behavior.
The co-existence of absence and presence provides a conceptual and aesthetic foundation throughout the exhibition. Khan makes strategic use of negative space to maintain this dynamic, using the edges of dense patterns of colour to demark silhouettes of human figures, trees, and other shapes. In effect, she conjures the presence of these forms by rendering their absence, making the eye and mind see what is actually missing.
This material technique also extends metaphorically through much of the autobiographical subject matter of Khan’s work. Having moved from Pakistan to Canada after her marriage, the artist often expresses her connection to landscapes, histories, and people from whom she is physically removed, yet emotively linked. Both formally and narratively, her work questions the relationship between what is there and what is not, finding balance in these elements and resolving that these may be complementary states, rather than conflicting ones.