The identity of the migrant is rooted not in a country, but a memory. Whether first generation or descendant, whether by choice or forced, an ever-increasing proportion of the human populace finds itself displaced from the geography and culture of its ancestors. Across borders, it is often the case that all that remains for these travellers are a scattering of belongings, and the evanescent memories of what was once home.
With limited access to an originary culture, travellers, refugees, migrants, and postcolonial populations must instead turn to other sources to generate a sense of identity. For Sara Khan, art is a means of thinking through an identity suspended across multiple cultures. Born in England, raised in Pakistan, and currently a resident of Burnaby, Khan’s experiences inform the creation of a hybrid world. Vancouver sunsets cast shadows upon the pink-hued arches of colonial architecture in Lahore, distant relatives take the form of mythological creatures, and carefully-placed miniature brushstrokes comingle with abstract fields of shimmering colour. Splicing together painting styles, plants and animals, places and objects, Khan’s art is mobile, constantly moving between our own territory and a place beyond the horizon.
Many of the works on display in Suraj Kinare (an Urdu phrase meaning “at the edge of the sun”) feature a rich symbolism, alluding to the artist’s efforts to navigate between the past and the future, or tradition and experimentation. Silhouettes, for example, feature throughout. These shapes are often vacant, but, in their outline, they tell us of what is missing: perhaps an architectural feature, or a person. In their absence, the memory of these entities touches upon and shapes everything they connect with. On other occasions, balconies, windows and doors open out upon distant vistas, suggesting the dream of escape—or, alternatively, a longing for home. Verdant fields of wildflowers, leaves, and water flow across many compositions, signalling the possibility for growth within a new land; these places form the habitat for hybrid creatures, both unsettling and unsettled in their displacement.
In their focus on specific figures, stories, and places from her own life, Khan’s artworks are intimate and personal. However, in their juxtaposition of the magic and the mundane, they also reflect universally relevant themes: the struggle to find a home, the dissolution of historical and cultural narratives, and the consequent attempts to restore or reinvent them. Drawing from the imaginary allows us to create coherency in our own lives, away from the narratives imposed by others, and generate new ways of negotiating the increasingly fragmented world within which we live. – Rhys Edwards, June 2019
Sara Khan’s colourful paintings resemble the crazy quilt of your wildest imagination. Khan’s choice medium of watercolours lends a dreamy feeling to her landscapes which perfectly suit her surreal compositions; the translation and transition of materials and application is one thing that makes first-time muralist Khan an especially intriguing one to watch at this year’s festival. – Thalia Stopa, Vancouver Mural Festival 2018