Art & Photography

Avleen Kaur’s ‘This Is Not a Happy Show’

Avleen Kaur is an emerging visual artist based in Toronto, whose distinctive visual poetry speaks to the perils of human life. Dissecting colonialism, capitalism, racism, and the heady and sinuous tapestry of human experience. We sat down with her to talk about her aesthetic, her inspiration, and her latest show at CryBaby Gallery in Toronto.

Tell us, why did you start painting.

I started painting, because of all the things that I could do to use my time, this one made it easier for me to escape whatever I was going through and it gave my mind and brain more space to focus on my trauma. It was one of the only things that let me put into physical form what I was feeling, and I still do that with my artwork. It has a lot to do with regurgitating the emotions that I’m going through, so I think painting is the direct way I am able do that.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Currently, I think I’m exploring the insinuation of a portrait that exists somewhere between the surreal and the realistic; somewhere between it having an actual form and it being just a copy of my brain.

It’s also about the emotions that the people around me are going through, the political and racial times that we are going through. It is an embodiment of a variety of those things fighting to stay within the form of realism.

Who are some painters and artists that you derive inspiration from?

I think it’s a variety that keeps changing. It’s difficult for me so often to pinpoint. There are some that inspire me through their political views, through the importance of representation or speaking up for your own people.

Kerry James Marshall is very important because of his views on things. Francis Bacon. Kara Walker, not only just in a visual way but the storytelling of what every figure means in her sculptural works. Then there are not just visual artists there are musicians like FKA Twigs and music from back home. The development of music has happened for such a long time in India that it has acquired the ability to form layers of emotions and trigger and encompass a range of emotions. I think that’s very commendable and it really lets me deep-dive into my own emotions and not be cliche with my art.

What do you hope the spectator derives from your painting?

I think my paintings often make a bit more sense if there’s a paper with it or there’s some sort of write-up where I can explain it a bit because the only thing I can expect them to see from the painting is feelings and emotions.  Looking at the paintings there isn’t a direct story that they’ll be able to find unless they read a small explanation of the show.

Oftentimes my paintings exist between the world of “you trying to figure out what shape this is” and “you trying to figure out how you’re feeling in that moment” It’s a variety of emotions and each of them is related to what I’ve titled the painting. I tend to choose a bouquet of events that have made me feel those things and then that becomes the painting, that becomes the show. My next show, for instance, is centered around “being unhappy” which opens on March 18.

Your show on March 18 at Crybaby Gallery, explain the concept to us.

The show is made out of 10 paintings that I believe were done in the last 7 to 8 months, some of them maybe over the years.  All of the feelings of suffocation, the need to escape not only physically, but also in your mind. I think as someone who enjoys spending time alone, it was very difficult for me. It felt like I was plowing a field that was, essentially, just going to give me indigestion in the end. It’s about loss, anxiety, the relationships that came out of quarantine, and all of the things I tolerated because the alternative was loneliness. It’s not a happy show, and the title is literally “This is Not a Happy Show”.

How does your art tie into your womanhood and your heritage?

Moving to a new country where you don’t see yourself as you were seen in your home country, you have a hard time, and there’s a huge mental shift there. There’s already a certain idea of you that has been formed and you need to work through that.

Whether it’s to do with your accent or your skin colour, there’s a tokenization of not only being a woman but being a woman of colour. So my work has a lot to do with back home, because I’m not yet a Canadian, and I feel like as an immigrant you are made to feel that you have to prove yourself.

My art is really a way of bringing all of these things to the surface, and I think afterward after I’ve brought it all up is when I really ‘deal’ with it.

What is on the horizon for 2021?

After my show at CryBaby I’m going to try to do more figurative work, trying to go back to India to get more inspiration, see my mom, travel a bit to the south, see my people. I’m exploring. I started working with leather and building accessories. I’m excited.


Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.

He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.

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