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Artist's Radical Care Space explores her yearning for community

Aaniya Asrani creates immersive exhibition in partnership with Burnaby-based Curiko for visitors to explore the meaning of care.

It was when I was 22 that I left behind everything I knew as home.

I packed my whole life into two suitcases and left the city that raised me, the people I loved and everything I’d owned.

Ever imagined what it would be like to pack your entire life in two suitcases and move to a new place where you knew no one — no family, no friends, no connections?

It was cold. It was confusing. It was foreign.

And it was not easy.

I remember trudging along the lonely, wintry streets of a new, unfamiliar city, hoping to find any connection — just anything to give me a sense of community, a sense of home, of belonging.

What is home? Where is home? Where do I belong? Do I belong here? These questions lived in my head rent-free for a long time while I yearned to connect with community.

My story is not unique.

Anyone who has moved to find a better life or experience a new world — or had no choice but to move — can understand what it means to yearn for connections, for comfort, for community.

Vancouver-based artist Aaniya Asrani understands it — having felt the emptiness and the isolation of this country's vast open spaces when she moved to Canada from India in 2017.

Yearning for community, Asrani channelled her feelings into art, creating immersive spaces to have “brave conversations about our bodies, identities and how we relate to one another.”

In her most recent interactive community exhibition, participants will be able to explore the meaning of care and connections using clay and shared stories.

Working with the Burnaby-based Curiko organization, which aims to connect people and fight social isolation, Asrani will bring her “radical care space” to Vancouver's Alternatives Gallery from Nov. 28 to Dec 2.

What can you expect at the exhibition?

In this free exhibition, participants will be given brick-like “care packages” of clay to make something for someone they care about, or to shape an object that embodies care to them.

“I want them to symbolize bricks,” she said. “Every time someone takes a brick away, it symbolizes a wall coming down.”

She stresses the importance of the idea of “radical care.” Not only is it about nurturing your interpersonal connections with people, she said, but it's also about extending to strangers the care usually reserved for family or friends.

“People are afraid to talk to strangers," she said. "But if you have a task that you're doing together — something that you're working on with your hands, it mellows you, calms you down, it makes you present in the space…. You’re not overthinking. And you're sharing what you're making with somebody. So you're creating a bond in that way and that's why I love clay.”

Warmth has a colour: it is brown

For Asrani, brown is the colour that reminds her of warmth, of home. “Like Mitti (dirt),she said. “The soil of my land and my people and we’re all made from it, and we'll go back to it.”

That's why the care packages are brown and the space is covered with brown canvas.

Covering everything in brown "is one of the ways in which I responded to being a brown body in a white world," she said. "When I went to Emily Carr, we all had a white cube as our studio space. I decided to cover all of it in brown, and write 'person (of colour)' across the wall." 

“The concept came from coming to terms with becoming a person of colour,” she added. “And not knowing I was a person of colour until I came here, because in India, I'm just a person. And now all of a sudden, I'm a person of colour.”

Inspiration for the care space

Asrani deeply felt the absence of community after immigrating. With a desire to be part of a community and help others foster theirs, she curated her care space with Curiko.

“This one is for myself, and for the others like me that are struggling.”

She reflects on another project she was working, where she was documenting oral histories in a small village in Punjab that inspired her to explore the meaning of care in this world. 

It was about the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India.

She said, “ There was an instance where a whole village came together to support a man who had been shot, and couldn't do his job anymore.”

“They came together and appointed him as the postmaster of this village. They took care of him in that way. And these moments shake me to my core, and show me what humanity can do if we just come together. And if we care enough.”

Giving care a physical form

It is important to give care a physical form, she said.

"There's this thing that my dad does." To ward off Nazar (the Arab word for evil eye or someone gazing at you with jealousy), "he does it with a palm full of salt. That's an act of care that he does for me. And that's an act of care that we can do for each other. It's so simple."

Similarly, in her care space, she aims to help people give physical form to their stories, "and share that form with somebody else."

"I'm making [this] tangible memory that I have and share it with somebody [else]. So the objects that people make ... they make for each other, they give it to someone else that they've just met, but it becomes a shared memory, so I think that's quite powerful."

She hopes that through this space people, can carry each others' stories and care for each other a little bit more every day, 

A Radical Care Space

Where: Alternatives Gallery, 1659 Venables St, Vancouver, B.C..

When: Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 (from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily)

Closing reception is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 2.

Cost: Free until supplies last

Visit Curiko's website for more information.

The space is wheelchair accessible; email or call (604) 862-5836 for getting in touch. 

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