John Stewart. Mississauga News. Monday, March 28, 2022

“Artful gratitude is a natural consequence of the pandemic, says John Stewart

Most Art Gallery of Mississauga exhibitions don’t get their initial showing on chain-link fences.

Flowing River, Lotus of Thanks is not your ordinary show.

It’s part COVID-19-influenced love letter to front-line workers and part COVID reflection/therapy committed to canvas by a pair of successful Canadian artists.

It’s curated by the indomitable Asma Arshad Mahmood, whom most Mississaugans will know as the dynamo behind the TD Mosaic Fest and Rock The Coliseum events running annually in the civic square since 2006.

COVID has had a profound effect on many sectors of our society, including the arts community, which lost venues and opportunities but not inspiration.

“The pandemic was very, very hard on all artists,” says Mahmood, the artistic director of the Canadian Community Arts Initiative.

Local artists became jazz musicians, improvising endlessly as circumstances changed.

A fence that fell down on Mahmood’s Lakeview property, before the pandemic flattened the world, later provided an opportunity to show gratitude to COVID’s foot soldiers.

She fashioned a number of posterlike thank yous on repurposed fence boards, posting them outside Lanzarotta’s grocery store, Port Credit’s post office, Trillium’s Mississauga campus and hard-hit local long-term-care homes.

That inspired the idea of a call for submissions to both say a broader thanks and provide income for local artists.

The 27 works, which careen from style to style like pandemic waves, were displayed last summer on the fence line near Port Credit Lighthouse.

They vary widely from Mahmood’s own work, declaring “Someone behind those masks has saved my life,” to the effort by her neighbour’s daughter, Abby Raghubir, who portrays a ghostly figure caressing a masked man.

The guest curator credits the AGM’s executive team for giving so many artists their first opportunity at a regional gallery.

The exhibition also features Charles Pachter, the iconoclastic Torontonian famous for his Canadian flag and regal moose portraits. He returned to painting flowers during COVID. A blood-red amaryllis, tinged with a silver lining, seems particularly apropos.

Michele Taras, former fashion photographer and Brampton Arts Acclaim Award winner, provides a written commentary for her fetching works, many done in “contemporary naïve” style.

Taras’ first COVID work reflected her missing shopping and fashion while drowning her sorrows in a glass of Merlot. Since that wasn’t such a good idea, she created a second whimsical “drinking companion.”

A fourth installation provides a record of the Shiamak Davar Toronto Dance School’s virtual Mosaic performance, recorded at the Adamson Estate last year. They’ll be performing as usual at this year’s July 22-23 event at Celebration Square.

The community-created pieces that were commissioned for the Lotus of Thanks exhibition will continue to be of service to the community even after the exhibition closes on March 31.

They’re being auctioned, with proceeds going to AGM’s acquisition fund. Successful bidders can choose where the work will be displayed at front-line operations.

Mahmood, who’s writing her first novel, says, “The pandemic gave us time to look at life in a different way.”

A lot of things we took for granted, like homegrown art and community connection, suddenly seem worth framing in a new way.”