Liberating Colour

by Deirdre Kelly

Multimedia artist Sarindar Dhaliwal (MFA ’03) has a vivid memory. For her first solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, she presents a range of colour-focused work rooted in remembrances of her own colourful past.

Born in 1953 in the Punjab region of India, the Toronto-based artist grew up in the suburbs of London, England, until her family relocated to Canada in 1968. She returned to Britain to begin her art studies, where she first developed a love of bright colour into an aesthetic signature. Returning to Ontario, she furthered her education at York University before settling in Toronto, where she now lives.

Sarindar Dhaliwal, <I>Outside the Zanzibar Tea Gardens</I>, 1985. Pastel, watercolour, coloured pencil, Promised Gift of Anne Koval. © Sarindar Dhaliwal

As exemplified by When I grow up I want to be a namer of paint colours – currently at the AGO until Jan. 7 – Dhaliwal’s lush and visually radiant art explores the experience of migration, focusing on how it affects the way we remember our formative childhood years, and how we recreate the past using autobiographical narrative.

Sarindar Dhaliwal, <I>Hey Hey Paula</I>, 1998

It’s a theme that runs like a thread through a large body of work encompassing photographs, embroidered textiles, chromogenic prints, handmade clay lettering, video, collage, large-scale multimedia installations and story-rich watercolours in vibrant shades of pink, red, green, blue and yellow.

Sarindar Dhaliwal, <I>Triple Self-Portrait with Persimmons and Pomegranates</I>, 1988. Mixed media on paper, Overall 108 × 159 cm. Collection of the Canada Council Art Bank. © Sarindar Dhaliwal. Photo Lipm

The prismatic palette, representing nearly 40 years of artistic endeavour, reflects a cross-cultural identity, including “the bits of self that have been fragmentary and displaced across continents, cultures, and history,” to quote from the exhibition.

When addressing the past, Dhaliwal adopts a critical approach enlivened by resplendent flights of the imagination. The results are political, poetic and – from an artistic perspective – profoundly satisfying. Her aim, Dhaliwal says, is “to return beauty to the world.” And that she most certainly has done. ■

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