Projections at the Dunlop Art Gallery
Léuli Eshrāghi and Jessica Karuhanga’s exhibit explores queer intimacy, trust, nature, and vulnerability
From September 25, 2021 to January 7, 2022, Dunlop Art Gallery at the Regina Public Library will be running an exhibit by Léuli Eshrāghi and Jessica Karuhanga called Projections.
The exhibit addresses the ideas and meanings behind the word projections, and how it relates “to queerness, perceptions (specifically with regard to sexuality, race, and gender), and possibility as it relates to Indigenous, Black, and Queer futurisms,” according to the Regina Library website. It utilizes film and video to allow the audience to dwell in the space provided and live in the moment of the exhibition.
The exhibition is created by Léuli Eshrāghi and Jessica Karuhanga and is curated by Gary Varro. Eshrāghi is a Sāmoan/Persian/Cantonese artist who works between Australia and Canada on their many different art forms, writing, and research. Karuhanga is of British-Ugandan heritage and a first-generation Canadian. In her work, she explores identity and “Black subjectivity: illness, rage, grief, desire and longing within the context of Black embodiment.” Varro is also the executive and artist director of Queer City Cinema and the Performatorium Festival of Queer Performance.
I had the absolute honour to go to this exhibit and experience the works of Eshrāghi and Karuhanga for myself. The way the exhibit was set up was beautiful; it set an incredible atmosphere. Each of the five videos I watched was separated by a red curtain and the walls were all black. Every sound merged to create an all-encompassing, almost surround sound-like feeling. These sounds worked so well together, yet when you stood and watched one video, they felt separate. There were moments where I forgot that I was standing alone in a library because I was so entranced by what I was watching.
There was a great sense of freedom in each video. There were no expectations for those in the videos – they just were. Every video carried a great sense of love and care. It was palpable just how much was put into every video and how the creators cared for their work. Overall, it felt like a quiet celebration. There was no loud singing, dancing, or yelling as you would traditionally picture for a celebration, yet it was very clearly celebratory without those conventional ideas. They didn’t need to yell or be loud for this idea to come across clearly.
The first video I saw was called “Re(cul)naissance” and was created by Eshrāghi. It asks the viewer “What does receiving and giving tactile pleasure have to do with mutual consent, respect and care in queer Indigenous kinships, beyond taboos imposed by Western missionaries and militourist/settler colonial agents?” The video showed two men and two women, and then one man and one woman. It was not explicitly erotic, but it was intimate. It was clear that each person had a great sense of trust with the others and there was no judgement in any action or movement. The video carried an air of calmness, peacefulness, and trust. I mention trust twice because it came across so clearly and needs to be emphasized. Trust can be rare to find, and to see it represented so clearly stopped me dead in my tracks.
The second video I watched was called “Golden Flow of the Merri Yaluk” and it was also created by Eshrāghi. It was staged with three young male-presenting people in nature, and more specifically, most of it was filmed by the waterside. This was probably my favourite piece in the exhibition. The description card for this video explains that the water bears witness to rituals. These rituals connect people, not only to each other, but to the land. It further explains that the Merri Yaluk is sacred to the Wurundjeri people and was a “source of life.” It describes the waters as golden, paralleled with the gold paint that the three people paint each other’s chests with. This video asks the viewer what are “the possibilities of ephemerally interacting with land to find a haven?”
“Golden Flow of the Merri Yaluk” was visually stunning. The setting was gorgeous, and many scenes utilized nature in some way. The message of the relationship between queerness and land came across clearly and beautifully. The characters were bestowing gifts made from nature onto each other. There was no artificial sound, no music, no voiceovers, just the sounds of nature. This video, like “Re(cul)naissance,” had a great feeling of trust. As I continued through the exhibit, I could see it emerge as a growing theme. There were no expectations between the men. Everything felt freeing and without restraint. There was no sense of any tension, just relaxation. It made me feel safe.
The third video I watched was “Body and Soul”, made by Karuhanga. It was simple yet spoke multitudes. It was a neck breathing. That’s it. It very subtly projected a powerful idea; something that seems so small, like a video of someone’s neck as they breathe, the simple up and down motions, carried such a big statement. The exhibition describes it as “the flesh becomes a synecdoche for race as a sign of social difference. The cartography of the body invites a consideration of Blackness and breath, stillness and subjectivity.” Out of all the videos, this was the one I kept wanting to watch over and over again. There’s something about it that draws you in and stills your thoughts.
“Body and Soul” presented trust differently. It showed vulnerability. The imagery of the neck is a symbol of that. Authors often use the idea of pressing your neck to someone’s sword as a sign of trusting the wielder. “Body and Soul” was able to invoke that sense of trust with just breathing.
The fourth and final video I was able to view was called “being who you are there is no other.” It was the longest video in the whole collection and was made by Karuhanga. Karuhanga was inspired by Julie Dash and Djibril Diop Mambéty in the setup of the videos. Two screens played different things, but despite the difference in what was playing, the two screens felt incredibly in sync. Karuhanga explains it as exploring “themes of the wilderness and wildness through the vestiges of two Black subjects.”
Visually, “being who you are there is no other” was stunning. It felt like magic. There was almost an ethereal feeling to it. Similar to the other videos, there was no judgement to be found. Everything felt free. Everything felt content. They were dancing in nature and there was no one to stop them.
Karuhanga and Eshrāghi’s Projections exhibit was incredible. I have never experienced a greater sense of trust than I did when I was watching it. Projections can be found at the Dunlop Art Gallery on 12th Avenue. It opened on September 25 and will continue until January 7, 2022.