Scrapbooks are time capsules compiled on the fly and jam-packed with personal mementoes. For Montreal artist Hajra Waheed, it took decades to gather her thoughts and encapsulate them in a mixed media art work called The Scrapbook Project, part of her larger installation Minutes from a Second Story, currently on view at Vancouver’s Centre A Gallery.
Waheed was born in Canada but spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia. Her father worked for ARAMCO, the Saudi oil company, and young Hajra grew up in a gated community exposed to two cultures, her westernised home life and the conservative Saudi one. It was a fluid period in the country’s history. The Cold War had ended and the first Gulf War had not yet begun. The region was militarising and political tensions were rising.
Taking photographs was frowned upon and other than a few drawings Hajra made in her sketchbook, the young Canadian had no record of her stay. The Scrapbook Project is a reaction to that convention, a sort of belated family album. “It was during my most formative years,” she says, “that I began studying this place with a discerning eye. I realized how critical it was to begin to make better sense of this rather strange lived experience.”
The Scrapbook Project is a distinctive collection of images comprised of iconic magazine photos, collage, photo transfers and drawings. The Gallery has removed her individual pages, framed them and presented them in linear form which, when read in chronological order, create an evolutionary tale recalling both the pleasant memories of childhood and the paradoxical ones that became more apparent to her as she was growing up.. They are delicate miniatures but they pack a punch, idyllic California-type scenes, – the compound emulated a sunny California lifestyle – juxtaposed with helicopters, Mecca and Arabic script. Her scrapbook is both personal and historic.
In 2012 Waheed returned to the Gulf with a video camera. 13 short videos elegantly mounted in heavy, walnut frames constitute the second part of the exhibit. This time, instead of recreating past memories from found pictures, she set out to record the here and the now. The result is a series of video postcards perfectly composed, static and observational. Static, that is, except for flashes of humanity that ripple through the frame.
In one video, a group of people can be seen frolicking in the distant surf. A woman sits by the water’s edge taking pictures with her smart phone. It looks like any North American beach scene except the woman is wearing a burqa. Who are those people in the water? Is she photographing her family? We don’t know but we do know one thing; taking photographs is no longer taboo. Waheed keeps her distance, letting the video make the point that the times may have changed but certain paradoxes remain.
Centre A is a new gallery in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown devoted exclusively to supporting and advancing Asian art. Minutes from a Second Story runs through November 2, 2013.