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Sameer Farooq

Sameer Farooq's work questions the value bias in collecting, investigates the challenge of representing ephemera, and manifestes the invisible presence of the archivist.

Terma, Images from the Ear or Groin or Somewhere (In collaboration with Jared Stanley). Installation view at The Lilley Museum, Reno, NV, USA, 2019. Photo: Ann Ploeger.

Terma, Images from the Ear or Groin or Somewhere (In collaboration with Jared Stanley). Installation view at The Lilley Museum, Reno, NV, USA, 2019. Photo: Ann Ploeger.

For the past decade, my practice works to reveal the countless blind spots around how museums have written and located history. I have questioned the value bias in collecting, investigated the challenge of representing ephemera, and manifested the invisible presence of the archivist. This research demonstrates my enduring fascination with how objects make their way into institutions, how they are interpreted and cared for, how they affirm national projects, and what leads to their exit during times of deaccession. My materials and methodologies are diverse: I work with architectural space, social practice, ceramics, printmaking, photography, found objects, and video. As an artist, I position myself between a broad range of people and expertise, using my exhibitions as opportunities to invite a wide public to imagine new ways our institutions could reflect and support our everyday lives. The results often counterbalance how dominant institutions speak about our lives: a counter-archive, new additions to a museum collection, or a buried history made visible. Together with other artists and curators I work to redress the role of exhibition and collection-based practices by employing decolonial, queer, and critical race lenses.

24 Affections (detail), monoprint, 2019. Photo: Sean Weaver.

24 Affections (detail), monoprint, 2019. Photo: Sean Weaver.

AGO: What was the inspiration for this artwork or series?
Farooq: "The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings” (Heraclitus) 

"A heap is a form, and there is formal pleasure in museums that appear to be mere heaps. Some museums gain their charm from the collision and touch of form-on-form” (Jared Stanley)

This series was made in collaboration with the brilliant US-based poet Jared Stanley. The result of our collaboration is a speculative artist’s museum entitled Terma, Images from the Ear or Groin or Somewhere, which opened in January 2019 at the Lilley Museum in Reno, Nevada.Located on the boundary between ethnography and science fiction, Terma takes its title from a Tibetan Buddhist tradition in which “hidden treasures” are buried in the earth, sky, water, and the mind. When retrieved by adepts, either by being dug up or meditated upon, these treasures are interpreted as important messages in troubled times. Farooq and Stanley use this practice as a metaphor to consider the ways museums (especially those dedicated to anthropology and archaeology) generate narratives about and taxonomies of objects and language. Farooq and Stanley envision as a ten-year collaboration presented across many gallery spaces. Through a long-term generative dialogue, they have constructed a museum from the ground up, making and conceptualizing its objects, narratives, spatial parameters, classification systems, and textual encounters. Ultimately, the project is an excavation of two artists’ imaginations and an opportunity to reframe how museums organize the past spatially. In it, we ask: How can we imagine and unearth the world differently? What follows is a dialogue between Farooq and Stanley on the spatial construction of museums, their personal histories with museums, and the ways objects and language interact to create a lyrical method of moving through space. 

AGO: Tell us about a place or a space where you most love making your work?
Farooq: 
I am a big-time wanderer and a lot of my ideas take form on these walks. I remember once walking through the neighbourhood of Eminönü in Istanbul where I spent over three hours on one city block: at the centre was a mosque, a fabric market was hung on the mosque, a shoe market was hung on the fabric market, a jewelry market was hung on the shoe market, and in front of it all were food stalls, the chaotic sidewalk and the street. These collisions of everyday life are quite inspiring to my work, often challenging what has been learned by presenting new ways of ordering and understanding the world. I also like the reverse: to sit still. I once took the Trans-Siberian express from Beijing to Moscow. For 6 days I just stared out of the window and learned a lot.

AGO: Are you in dialogue with any other artists or creative peers about your practice? If so, how does this dialogue feed your work?
Farooq:
 Collaboration has always been an engine to my practice. I have collaborated with a few people for over 15 years and it has been fascinating to see how our relationships have grown over time. Usually I ask people to work with me who are very different or who maybe even scare me a bit. I think I am fascinated by their different points of view and feel as though I could learn and grow by working beside them. Aside from a small group of trusted collaborators, I try to maintain a wider network of artists and curators to be in dialogue with. Together we point our blind spots in works-in-progress, offer related readings to support the work, or share alternative approaches to a subject. It’s quite wonderful.   

If it were possible to collect all navels of the world on the steps to ASCENSION, fired clay, stepped display (In collaboration with Jared Stanley).   Installation view at Plugin ICA, 2018. Photo: Luther Konadu.

If it were possible to collect all navels of the world on the steps to ASCENSION, fired clay, stepped display (In collaboration with Jared Stanley).   Installation view at Plugin ICA, 2018. Photo: Luther Konadu. 

Sameer Farooq is a Canadian artist of Pakistani and Ugandan Indian descent. He has held exhibitions at institutions around the world including the Lilley Museum, Nevada (2019); Vicki Myhren Gallery, Denver (2018); Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (2017); Institute of Islamic Culture, Paris (2017); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2016); The British Library, London (2015); Maquis Projects, Turkey (2015); Sol Koffler Gallery, Rhode Island (2015); Trankat, Morocco (2014); Artellewa, Cairo (2014); Art Gallery of Ontario (2011); and Sanat Limani, Turkey (2010). Farooq holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI), a BFA from Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam, NL) and a BA from McGill University (Montreal, QC). He is a recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts; Ontario Arts Council; Toronto Arts Council; the Europe Media Fund; as well the President's Scholarship at the Rhode Island School of Design. Reviews and essays dedicated to his work have been published by Canadian Art; The Washington Post; BBC Culture; Hyperallergic; Artnet; The Huffington Post; and C Magazine among others. Farooq was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2018, Canada's preeminent art award.

Follow Sameer @studiosameerfarooq

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