Durham Art Gallery
What Haven't We Learnt Yet, Still?
In seven constellations consisting of over 40 works and collected objects, Pamila Matharu explores how one may reconsider familiar notions of the past in contemplation of their personal worldview while existing here, on Turtle Island.
In this iteration of the recent award-winning 2019 installation One of These Things is Not Like the Other at A Space Gallery (Toronto), Matharu explores feminist (sub) cultural resistance through institutional critique, decolonial aesthetics, counter-hegemonic exhibition-making, and collecting-as-medium through her new and recent collage, photography and collected objects.
Since the arrival of members of the Panjabi-Sikh community 117 years ago in 1903, not much historical evidence exists in the public consciousness outside of stereotypical tropes or within Canadian art history altogether. What Haven’t We Learned Yet, Still? thus examines the relationship (or non-relationship) and lived-experience as the artist as a recorder of art history.
A commissioned companion text by writer Sarah-Tai Black, What Haven't They Learnt Yet, Still? accompanies the exhibition. Black’s personal essay becomes a space for intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue and names Matharu’s adjacencies to Black feminist cultural production that helped establish her as an emerging artist in the early 1990s.
Curator’s Note |
The title of this exhibition emerged from a conversation between the exhibiting artist and myself over a year ago. We discussed Pamila’s award-winning exhibition, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other, at the artist-run centre, A Space (Toronto), where Pamila responded to found videotapes that were discarded by a major Canadian art institution.
The tapes held recordings of an auxiliary literary symposium (Identity in A Foreign Place, October 1993) that was part of Perspective ‘93, a contemporary art series featuring Micah Lexier and Lani Maestro. At the symposium, Lakshmi Gill, a Vancouver based Filipina- Panjabi writer, shared her journey as an academic and creative writer coming to Canada. Twenty-five years later, her narrative still resonated with Pamila’s own experience. These discarded videos are then material evidence of the systems of erasure that threatens cultural safety and security.
What may seem like an insignificant act, a simple clearing of space, is an active culling of the significant influence non-white practitioners have on our collective cultural history. An archive is a carrier bag, a holding tank of the preselected for the purpose of cultural memory keeping and knowledge production. The removal of some can quickly become the erasure of many.
She paused on the phone after sharing the story of the rejected records, took a breath and said “Really Jac! What haven’t we learnt yet... still?!“ What does it mean for entire populations to be ejected from the archive of Canadian art?
Central to her response at A Space are two questions: How do we survive in archives? And how are we erased? ‘We’ in this case does not refer to the great Canadian imaginary, but to QTBIPOC creative practitioners on Turtle Island.
This exhibition asks the audience to consider the artist’s own archive-as-artwork presented here in the gallery in relation to dominant archives that act as vehicles for systemic racism and cultural exclusion. In this analogy, ‘we’ are the children riding in a car asking for the umpteenth time: Are we there yet? Humbly, cheekily, exasperated, exhausted and with more patience than we deserve, the exhibition responds: there is still a long, long way to go.
This time, however, the ‘we’ refers to the settler audience. The exhibition presents the collective us with the work we haven’t yet done, the work that has been and is still being asked of us.