Ash Tanasiychuk

Imaginary Homelands

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Sara Khan's solo exhibition "Suraj Kinare" at Surrey Art Gallery

A rare solo show by Burnaby-based artist Sara Khan is on at Surrey Art Gallery right now and VANDOCUMENT had the pleasure to experience it during a fairly quiet summer’s night.

Titled Suraj Kinare, an Urdu phrase meaning “at the edge of the sun,” Khan’s paintings are split approximately 50/50: half skyscapes and half dreamscapes.

She displays incredible confidence in choosing where to leave completely untouched whitespace and where to imbue her paintings with colour-filled layers. Which is why Rising seems an odd choice for the 1st piece (if you move clockwise through the show past the assistant curator’s statement). “Rising” seems like an early work (even though it’s dated 2018): a little crude, almost a sketch or unfinished. Every other piece in Suraj Kinare boldly says, “I am a strong artist making strong choices.” Union, for example, which is very similar in size and feel (also 2018), feels more finished.

Assistant curator Rhys Edwards says these works are intimate, and yes, while they’re personal, they don’t have an intimacy as much as a delicacy. Delicate in touch but also a delicacy as you would describe cuisine. Khan’s control and choice of colour have a flavour to them that would be delicious to taste. 

Sara Khan, Suraj Kinare, Surrey Art Gallery, Summer 2019, photo by Ash Tanasiychuk
Sara Khan

The strongest are the dreamlike scenes. The way that Khan collages without feeling cheaply pasted is fresh, but it is the seemingly endless ways she treats her items – some are painterly, some illustrative; some abstract, some figurative, all placed side by side by side – that makes her compositions impossible to look away from. Are these recreations of her subconscious or statements about a collective existence, a hope for harmonious living within our differences?

Sara Khan, Suraj Kinare, Surrey Art Gallery, Summer 2019, photo by Ash Tanasiychuk
Sara Khan, “Mother (Diptych)” (2018)

In the show’s printed binder, an unattributed photocopy of Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands (a 1982 essay “that propounds an antiessentialist view of place.”) is included.

Curious about its relationship to Khan’s exhibition, I sit down to read it.  

“Writers and politicians are natural rivals;” I read, “Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory.”

At the end, I read, “The mingling of fantasy and naturalism is one way of dealing with these problems” (At this point in the essay, Rushdie is writing about incompatible descriptions of society from the viewpoints of Britons vs Indians). Is this mix of fantasy and naturalism the key to this essay’s inclusion in the exhibit?

Sara Khan, Suraj Kinare, Surrey Art Gallery, Summer 2019, photo by Ash Tanasiychuk
Sara Khan, “Incomer” (Diptych), 2019

It is in the middle, though, that I pull this phrase from the article: “imaginary homelands.” Shortly thereafter is also quite a suitable show subtitle: “we are but wounded creatures, capable only of fractured perceptions.”

As I sit here on the vinyl black chair reading Rushdie’s essay, surrounded by Khan’s incredible work, I feel present – in my body – as though this play with realities and perceptions makes me realize, “I am here in this body right now…” even if I’ll disconnect the moment I’m back outside on King George Boulevard waiting for the bus with Surrey’s traffic brushing past my follicles while clogging my pores and nostrils. 

Tonight, the Surrey Art Gallery is quite quiet. Yes, it’s gloriously scorching and sunny outside on this early August 1st night, but once you’re done beach gathering and patio beer-ing, promise me you’ll visit the always free Surrey Art Gallery to see this show before it closes August 31st. After that, it’ll be too late to dream. 

Sara Khan, Suraj Kinare, Surrey Art Gallery, Summer 2019, photo by Ash Tanasiychuk
Sara Khan, “Self Portrait” (2018)