Burrard Arts Foundation presents Sanda Rd Key Dhund by Sara Khan. The Urdu title of the exhibition translates to Mists of Sanda Rd, referring to an area the artist frequented while a resident of Lahore, Pakistan, before moving to Vancouver in 2014. Reflecting on here and there, past and future, her works combine memory and fantasy, creating other worlds where loved ones and mythical beings converge within a shared landscape. Architecture shifts in and out of focus, fading into persistently green colour schemes that lend each scene an anxious feeling of being not quite day or night.
Having worked primarily with watercolour in recent years, Khan has taken her BAF residency as an opportunity to explore new material strategies, creating drawings with wax crayon and oil pastel, and acrylic paintings, sticky and imprecise, that soften the viewers’ efforts to differentiate between person and creature.
The exhibition is anchored by a sprawling work on paper that unfurls over both the south and east walls. Its dreamlike progression flows together and apart, with shadowy faces appearing in dark skies above bodily hillsides and scenes that hint at allegory—enrobed humans, perched like birds among tall tree branches, and a seated woman with a rabbit in her womb, to name a few.
Though Khan’s works can be described as consistently otherworldly, the paintings in Sanda Rd Key Dhund include moments that shift toward science fiction. A reclining figure in Shaam (2021) emerges from a murky foreground, its facial features undefined, yet landing somewhere between monstrous and mundane. The figure’s body melts into the defining lines of a hammock, or chair, while in the background, through an imposing archway, the horizon glows an eerie key lime hue. In Afterlight (2021) the sky is inverted, blotted out with black paint while seated figures in the foreground seem phosphorescent in comparison. Again, the pooling muck of thinned acrylic paint thickens and obscures the bodies’ definition, like Pompeii poses preserved under falling ash.
These enigmatic scenes are accompanied and contrasted by sincere portraiture of friends and loved ones—both children and adults, their faces specific and conveying human expressions. They visit in small groups, or cozy up on parents’ laps, looking at one another or meeting the viewers’ gaze. Some images read like old photographs, conveying an instant, inelegantly cropped and with faded contrast. Throughout, the green hues persist and dominate, punctuated by marked moments of pale terracotta.
Combining both whimsical and unsettling imagery, inspiring both hope and fear, the works in Sanda Rd Key Dhund are appropriate for our time. Facing an ongoing global pandemic, the world is smaller for many, prolonging our separation from some while condensing our contact with others. The earth is rife with catastrophe, yet our children continue to grow right beside us. We are witness to their wonderment, in the face of terrifying circumstances, and in the microcosms of city apartments.