Seeking an identity at Glenhyrst Art Gallery

“Identity is a many-splendored thing.”

Truer words have never been spoken, and it was this statement that brought me to the Glenhyrst Art Gallery in Brantford to witness the exhibit it had inspired. Admittedly, I had never heard about the gallery before and did not really know what I was getting into when I pulled up to the impressive, stately building on the banks of the Grand River.

The featured artists for this exhibit – Alejandro Arauz, Jean Maddison and Aliki Mikulich – each have their own distinct way of expressing their understanding of identity and what makes a person who they are. Their pieces contrasted one another yet provided a sort of balance while taking the viewer on a visual journey. My guide, Art Education Specialist and Art Rental Coordinator, Karen Bell, said the exhibit “[looked] at identity from a completely different perspective.”

First on the menu was Arauz’s collection, which housed works full of intricate symbolism, layering and patterning of harsh black and white, meant to drive home the feelings of “integration, its resistance and its acceptance.”

Arauz was born and raised in Nicaragua before immigrating to Canada. He describes his inspiration for the collection as the “inevitability of integrating into a new way of life.” The lithographs are abstract in nature and let the viewer interpret them in their own way, but subtle symbols – dollar signs, logos and other signs of wealth and status – show a critical look at the superficial side of society. It is also said to be an allusion to defense and protection of one’s self and his or her identity.

“The image shows him relating to himself through interplay of texture, playfully manipulating the body and having pieces work together,” said Bell. “It’s full of symbolic imagery, and the senses are attuned to his vocabulary of colour and texture.”

Next was Mikulich, whose particular focus was on the process of finding one’s self through his or her surroundings. Mikulich manipulates reclaimed materials such as packing cardboard, Plexiglas and plaster in order to show the harshness of design and how it suffocates the land.

Her painting, The Development, brings to mind industrialism and the encroachment upon unclaimed land with gridded space and tiny, cramped-together houses slowly spreading across a vast space of rich, untouched land. Through her pieces, Mikulich attempts to warn the viewer of the dangers of taking advantage of the resources provided for them, and how “building without consideration for art, design and open spaces will affect the identity of their cities.”

As my guide and I came to the final leg of the tour, I was immediately struck by the vivid, lush imagery presented by artist Jean Maddison. Her pieces were so bold, so eye-catching and immediately conjured up in my head the process of human development with images of infants layered with strands of DNA, flowers, insects and lizards, set upon a backdrop of vast, infinite space. Based on the Garden of Eden, it shows just how far humankind has come, and reminds us not to forget about our roots, as they are the most important part of our identity.

“Maddison’s work is designed to invoke different feelings in different people,” said Bell. “Most of all, it is supposed to show human life, life forms and how it affects our identity by delving into science and our past.” Bell went on to say that “[Maddison] also shows infinite space in order to tell the viewer that they are more than their surroundings, they are part of the natural world and an amazing universe.”

As amazing as the exhibit was, not many people have visited the gallery to experience it.

There is a certain stigma of intellectualism that comes with places such as these, though the Glenhyrst Gallery is certainly nothing to be intimidated by. With its friendly, welcoming hosts and stunning pieces, it is definitely worth a look – especially by those who have a love for the arts, and those who want to experience a different perspective on life’s little intricacies.

“The art gallery is important to the cultural fabric of the community,” said Bell. “Our doors are always open to those who want to experience, one-on-one, what art has to say. Art will speak to you, if you give it a chance.”

The Glenhyrst gallery hosts several different workshops and even tours for students during the year, and events such as “Family Arts Day” on May 24. With hands-on activities, student performances and an open house, the gallery gives people of all ages a chance to experience what the gallery offers.

“We’re really trying to democratize art,” Bell said. “Art is for everyone, and everyone should be able to experience it. We’re developing a connection with schools and local guilds to do different activities and workshops. It’s not just about coming into a quiet, sombre place and looking at paintings.”

As someone who was first intimidated by the thought of going to a gallery, I now regret my uncertainty. The Glenhyrst Gallery may be invisible to those who do not give a chance to more conventional forms of displaying art, but after giving it a shot I am determined to go back. After all, art is always changing and adapting, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

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