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Intricate works transform absence into art at Sunshine Coast Arts Centre

Sketches for Investment Plans, Re-wildings exhibits open
Artist Aileen Bahmanipour reflects on works by herself and Cath Hughes during a public reception at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre.

A pair of recently opened exhibitions at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre demonstrate the power of refuting voids using colour and form. 

Vancouver-based artist Aileen Bahmanipour was the featured guest at a public reception on Nov. 24 to open her show Sketches for Investment Plans. Multidisciplinary artist Cath Hughes, who was unable to attend, is the creator of a series of two- and three-dimensional collage works titled Re-wildings. 

Both artists are expatriates: Bahmanipour was born in Iran, where she studied at the Tehran University of Art before pursuing graduate studies in Vancouver. Britain-born Hughes, a graduate of Oxford University and a former staffer at high-profile London galleries, immigrated to Canada in 2008. The two are currently faculty members at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. 

“Living in a city like Vancouver, anybody knows there is an absence of colour,” said Simon Levin, who delivered opening remarks at the reception. “There’s the fog, there’s the rain, and it’s almost like people are scared to make something colourful. In some ways [Hughes] is using bricolage — a putting-together of things in unexpected ways — with the idea that colour could be a saviour to the climate crisis.” 

Hughes’s works revolve around a hub of monochromatic imagery surrounded by vivid shapes that pinwheel outward. In Rewilding (Heart), bleached fish fossils give way to amber barnacles, russet sea stars and striped cuttlefish. In Rewilding (Planned Obsolesce), ephemeral kitchen appliances are wreathed by florid geographies assembled from 1980s-vintage world maps. 

“How can we ‘re-wild’ ourselves and our planet, to find fecundity of our imaginations, our hearts, and our planet?” asked Hughes in her artist statement. 

Hughes’s three-dimensional specimens, encapsulated within bell jars, also proceed from inky ambiguity into polychromatic heterogeneity. In Biodome (Orange), everything from bread bag tags to miniature toadstools illustrate a resurgence of creativity and complexity. 

Meanwhile, Bahmanipour’s works are rooted in complexity and strive to visualize convoluted manmade systems. Her multidisciplinary series was inspired when financial sanctions imposed on Iran prompted her to type the question “How to invest in Iran?” into an Internet search engine. Textual results were suppressed by the country’s censors, but diagrams and illustrations bypassed the filters. 

Combining abaca paper and thread, Bahmanipour re-interpreted the images in various phases of degeneration. Through complementary plexiglass sculptures, she embodies negative space using intricate forms that suggest industrial machinery or human anatomy. 

Bahmanipour’s vexation with the climate consequences of Iran’s oil-based economy mingles with cross-cultural dysphoria, prompting her to push boundaries. 

“When you experience immigration, you already lose everything that you have,” she said. “There is nothing else to be worried about. So why not? Let’s work on acetate and fold it and crumple it. It was easy for me to try something new, but if I was [still] in Iran I don’t think I would have jumped at it because I still had very strong connections to painting and narrative images.” 

The exhibitions by Cath Hughes and Aileen Bahmanipour remain on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until Dec. 22. Visit for details and hours.