In Conversation: Sara Gulamali

Sahar Rahmanian

💚 by Sara Gulamali presents a series of photographs with which she explores her relocation from London to Vancouver. Continuing practicing with green screen technology and the colour green in this new environment, Gulamali finds a new meaning for these motifs. With an interest in creating an inclusive space, this exhibition walks its audience through the artist’s observations and discoveries within this new space.

Read on to hear more about the ideas, challenges, and aspirations behind Gulamali’s work.

SH

You told us that moving from London to Vancouver made you experience an intense culture shock. Could you tell me more about the challenges you faced while searching through this new space and exploring the new meaning of green?

SG

The challenges with assimilating to a new environment transcends just one element of my day to day life. Everything from figuring out where to eat, where to go, how to get around—it’s all brand new. Especially moving right before the pandemic, which ultimately restricted my ability to even explore what Vancouver had to offer. My practice was so influenced by what I had always known—my life, my experiences, my surroundings, my politics. To be in a new country, and to not even be allowed to leave my home, was extremely stunting. This residency gave me the opportunity to revisit my practice and reflect upon how my ideas have shifted since my move. The relationship between the organic and the artificial green, feels very comprehensive of the push and pull you feel in this city. A concrete city woven into forests and mountains.

SH

I find the green drape covering your body very fascinating. I was wondering how this element in your work relates to the notion of Muslim women and identity you have previously worked on.

SG

The act of covering has its connection to Islam, and to eastern cultures—but generally my reason for being attracted to the act of covering moves beyond these relationships. I love the idea of hiding in plain sight, feeling both seen and unseen. This is an experience I personally relate to, often feeling like everyone is looking at me because of being visibly Muslim, yet also feeling deeply misunderstood and unacknowledged, because of this same reason.

Green screens are used in traditional media to transport, change, and hide people and places.

I believe marginalized people can often embody these same qualities. Their existence becomes performative—able to shape shift and code switch depending on what space they’re in, and what their purpose is, but never existing wholly as themselves, with all facets of their identity at play, at once. My roots run deep, and my culture is a rich amalgamation of different places. The green drape allows my form to be manipulated.

SH

It looks like the green light in the ceiling represents the green drape in the photographs as it covers your audience’s body. As the artist of this show, what did you want your audience to think about when they stand under this green light?

SG

It’s not necessary that the audience themselves thinks or even acknowledges the green light per se. I’ve always just enjoyed my work having an interactive element to it, as often the process I encounter, creating my work, undergoes a very performative evolution. By placing an intervention of sorts into a space, and having an audience move within that curated framework— knowingly or even unknowingly—makes the work more dimensional.

I used to find photography difficult to engage with, as it can feel so separate from ourselves. These intentional shifts in the space engulf the audience into the work, and make them an active participant. Not everyone will always acknowledge their part in it, but it’s not necessary that they do.

I’m intrigued by the idea that for those looking in, they see viewers covered in this green light, and know they look different, that something has changed—and as a result, they feed into the work itself.

SH

Some of your previous works, like Self Portrait (2018), explore the concepts of marginalized communities and the “hyper-visibility” or “invisibility” of Muslim women, as mentioned in the exhibition text. I associate these two words with the suppression and exclusion we Muslim women feel when we move to new spaces. Could you please tell me how you, as the artist, would define them?

SG

Hyper visibility & Invisibility—this oxymoron refers to the position of Muslim women today, both constantly under scrutiny, and at the same time, often missing from the narrative. We cannot see ourselves in mainstream media, yet we always see a perversion of our values being co-opted.

Whether it’s Europe or Canada, the choices of Muslim women are always a point of contention in the conversation, yet it seems as though they are also always missing from the discussions. Spoken about, but never spoken to.

SH

When you first started your residency at BAF, you decided to work with fruits, especially pomegranates, because of their relationship with matriarchs and femininity. Do you see yourself creating more works about this topic in the future?

SG

I’ve lost many of the influential women in my life, and it was these women who instilled the values which I still hold today, and very much influence the work I make. I find myself attracted to making work about femininity, but as the idea of grief and loss coincides with that for me, I haven’t quite grappled with how to explore these topics in a way that feels complete and inclusive of my personal experience.

When I started my residency at BAF, I wanted to just get back into making work that felt comforting, and therapeutic, without the pressure of thinking of a final show. I think the pomegranate series offered me that opportunity.

See Sara Gulamali’s exhibition, titled đź’š, at at Burrard Arts Foundation until June 11, 2022.