Exhibition Dates: September 13, 2019 - October 19, 2019

Opening Reception: September 13, 7PM - 11PM at TRUCK

Artist Talk: September 14, 1PM at TRUCK

Through the use of various printing techniques that incorporate both found imagery + text, the body of work in Mehmoon reflects upon the events, ideas and trends that have shaped Iran over the last 40 years.

In concert with Mehmoon we are pleased to screen acclaimed Iranian documentary short film, The House Is Black, directed by Forough Farrokhzad. This film will screen on loop in our Parkade new media gallery for the duration of the exhibition, and is generously sponsored by Facets, a nonprofit based in Chicago that connects people to independent ideas through transformative film experiences.

on the title of this show. 

i have been thinking about my tongue. the weight of my tongue.
 the lightness of my tongue.
 of how it behaves. 

of how it moves.
 of how it remains reposed between these neighbouring lips.
 how it enunciates.
 how when a word rolls off the tip
 certain parts are stressed
 while other parts are left entirely alone.
did i get it right?
am i saying it right?
questions i seem to always ask myself.
 is it the layers of language that accentuate this level of doubt.
 i mean displacement brings about a plurality that cannot be undermined. and the tongue is an unforgiving thing.
 it twists and turns and tangles up within itself.
 sometimes without reason.
 sometimes without want.
 sometimes because of how far it is being stretched.
 it’s perilous desire of finding meaning from the in between.
 my tongue the meh.
the summer haze that is amiss.
aya metoonam dar meh shekofteh misham?
can i bloom in fog?
can i live with layers of mist?
 my tongue the moon.
the constant that hides as day arrives too soon.
 my tongue the shelter.
 that lives with violent unrest.
speak easy.
let it all be known.
oh how i wish i could.
 but my tongue is my guest.
 and i like it the uninvited mehmoon.

Written by Reza Rezaï

Can we make ourselves light enough (to levitate)?

Essay written by asmaa al-issa

To many of us who have been displaced, or whose parents have been displaced, our knowledge about the places we were born and where we no longer live is collected from stories, traditions, news articles, history books, and images. We develop feelings to these distant places and cultures—feelings informed by our families’ experiences of oppression, war, famine. The weight of this trauma is internalised within us and carried in various ways; mentally or physically, consciously or subconsciously. 

For years they resisted the idea of leaving and even turned down opportunities to leave. They had high hopes for their country; that one day the war and the sanctions and the fear would end. Until one morning, they received a letter which made it clear that staying was no longer an option.

 Eventually the question arises, what do we do with this weight? As artists, we have a responsibility—to our communities, societies, history, and future generations—to respond by asking questions, addressing relevant issues, and examining details that are otherwise overlooked. We develop ways to respond to the weight of the life we observe and experience. We develop ways to levitate.

They were fortunate to know people who knew people who could help them forge papers, arrange a ride, offer them a place to stay. The house was the coldest it had ever been. Furniture, plates, clothes, toys, and books were all left in place; as if they were only leaving for vacation. A family of six travelling light with two heavy suitcases.

In the section on lightness in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino identifies literature (or, in this context, art practice) to be “the search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living.” [1] Searching for lightness within a heavy lived experience requires a necessary detachment. Displaced families are in a position of detachment from their places of origin. They live in a safe environment and in a different context, yet are still connected to the intensities of distant places—through relatives, memories, scars.

As artists, we take on a similar perspective by displacing ourselves from the subject; this point of view may be a privileged one but it allows for a different, equally valid, experience of the world. The reaction of artists through light gestures does not deny weight, but allows for a response to lived experiences by hovering above, distant enough to oversee, feel, and confront.   

A family of six in a two-bedroom apartment. Four years spent waiting for a phone call. Two months to pack and move again, this time by airplane. They arrive in a cold country, greeted by spring. The ground is brown and the trees are bare.

As a way of addressing past and current violences in Iran from a displaced point of view, the works in Mehmoon reappropriate weighted imagery and language. In responding with light gestures such as layering (stickers on surfaces), hovering (silk over printed text), and illuminating (with neon light), the heaviness is offset. This allows for the creation of a momentary entry point; the weight of horrific lived realities is made accessible for both the artist and the viewer.  Light gestures are embedded throughout the works, such as the bits of pop-culture references (brands, cartoons, magazines, etc.) that seem to contrast the images they overlay; references from a world both familiar and foreign. This speaks to the complexity of relating to subject matter from a physical and cultural distance. It also provides an entry point for the Western audience to engage with an unfamiliar weight. 

They work many jobs. Security, sales, daycare, cleaning company, plastic factory, grocery store. At school their children are enrolled in ESL classes. At home, they speak their mother tongue in their mother’s accent. They are constantly asked about the country they came from: what kind of food do you eat?; do you celebrate christmas?; how do you say ___ in your language?

As viewers, we have a responsibility to engage with the weight we are given; to think about it and respond to it. Through different mediums, the weight is transferred from artist to viewer, making it possible to address issues that affect our communities, societies, and future generations. The cycle of creating and responding is a continuous and collective one.

Years have passed and still no one has returned.

 Lightness is a pursuit. An aspiration. A technique. Although it may not offer resolution, it does offer a vantage point to analyse which uncertain steps to take, in which uncertain direction. The best we can do is to allow ourselves to move lightly through this heavy world.

[1] Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. Geoffrey Brock (Boston: Mariner Books, 2016), 32.

Reza Rezaï is a Winnipeg based artist/writer/educator.

asmaa al-issa's practice contemplates different ways of knowing mainly through drawing, sculpture, and photography. She continually builds on her knowledge of materials, practices, philosophies, theories, and histories of the Middle East, while developing her practice as an artist and educator.

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