Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 01/18/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 01/18/2012 8:46 AM | Updates
MOST of us have a favourite olfactory memory, but not everyone is transported back to childhood by the aroma of baking bread or their mother's perfume.
For Bhavni Bhakoo, it's the smell of paint and paper that takes her home to Kenya and her grandfather's printing press.
Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.
Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.
German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.
Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.
Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).
It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.
When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.
A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.
As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.
Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.
Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.
"He was the first one who taught me how to draw plants, at age three or four. He'd draw it for me and I'd have to colour it in," the Winnipeg artist recalls.
The flora of her native land inspired Bhakoo's new solo exhibition, Garden of Mothers, at cre8ery gallery & studio.
And given the bold explosion of hues, it's hard to believe that until she started working out of cre8ery (she's being mentored by owner Jordan Miller) in 2008, she'd never painted on canvas, let alone in colour.
"I was terrified. For me, canvas represented permanence and I didn't want to be identified as an artist," says Bhakoo, 49.
"But paper never lasts, and I could tear that up."
It was an arranged marriage that brought her to Winnipeg at age 19. And although she went on to earn a fine arts degree at the University of Manitoba (with a focus on figure drawing), her reluctance to fully answer her artistic calling became a non-issue after the birth of her only child, now 25 and soon to be married herself.
"I did everything else but art during those years of raising my daughter," says Bhakoo, who is ethnically East Indian and spent part of her teenage years living in England. She is divorced from, but still close friends with her husband.
It took a case of Empty Nest Syndrome and a meltdown of sorts for the parent and the painter parts of herself to make peace. During a visit home in 2004, Bhakoo, who was "consumed with self-pity," recalls how she was "dragged off kicking and screaming" to Lamu, an idyllic island off Kenya's eastern coast, by her uncle, a well-known artist and her childhood hero.
After crying for two days, Bhakoo says she "retaliated" by grabbing newsprint and a piece of charcoal from the stove, slapping on her headphones and drawing up a storm -- mostly the female figure, her specialty.
"Next thing I hear is this loud 'pop' behind me and it's my uncle popping a bottle of champagne, she recalls. "So it was definitely Kenya that brought me back to my art."
Bhakoo also lived in Toronto for two years, during which time she attended Toronto Film School and added video and photography to her repertoire.
In 2010, after a five-year absence, she returned to her birthplace, Nairobi, intending to rest and rejuvenate by communing with nature in the gardens long beloved by her mother and aunts. Suddenly, she says, it was as if she were seeing the familiar plants and flowers for the first time. She started snapping photos and sketching.
Back in Winnipeg, while studying the photos and drawings, Bhakoo says she and Miller noticed a sexual element to them, how certain patterns in the plants and leaves resembled both female and male genitalia. "This was unintentional, but then I realized there is an obvious connection between nature and sex," she says. The title Gardens of Mothers is dedicated to her mother and two aunts and is meant to honour the nurturing women in her life as well as Mother Nature, who nourishes us personally and collectively. The 59-piece, multimedia exhibition includes acrylic paintings, drawings, collages and photographs.
Although she has now technically embraced her identity as a full-time artist -- her first solo exhibition last year sold 23 of 31 pieces -- Bhakoo says she's still basically learning the language of canvas and colour.
"I say that with the last show I learned the alphabet, and with this show I'm learning how to make words."
Gardens of Mothers runs at cre8ery gallery through to Jan. 24. All proceeds will go to a charity supporting motherless children. Bhakoo is open to firstname.lastname@example.org
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2012 D2
Updated on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 8:46 AM CST: added photo
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