Brendan Fernandes

Speaking of identity…

New York-based Canadian artist makes his Lower Mainland debut at the Surrey Art Gallery.

How does one’s identity come to be? How are we defined by language and speech?

The exhibition Disscontinent at the Surrey Art Gallery is 2010 Sobey Art Award nominee Brendan Fernandes’ Lower Mainland debut.

It features seven recent artworks that examine language and power, diaspora and cross-cultural communication, and the conventions of ethnographic museums in defining cultures. The works raise questions about identity and authenticity through pictures of language, and soundtracks of mixed spoken word. The breakdown of language, as well as its constructive and creative aspects, comes together in the artist’s immersive installations.

Disscontinent launches this Saturday (Sept. 17) with a free artist’s talk and opening reception from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and continues to Dec. 11. Admission to this exhibition is by donation.

“I am interested in how language becomes codified, where it creates barriers that allow for understanding within specific groups and communities,” says Fernandes. “In particular, I am investigating how language can be altered and forgotten through the process of migration. It defines identity via one’s transformation of becoming something else through processes of loss and gain, forgetfulness and remembrance.”

The title for this exhibition refers to the discontinuities of identity and language, and the increasingly common migratory patterns of individuals and groups across continents.

Disscontinent is anchored by two large-scale media art installations. Voo Doo You Doo Speak surrounds the viewer with a series of video animated “Zulu head” totems that speak Dada-ist poetry. In the work titled Current Location (Possibly), the interpretive language of the museum swells to a crescendo with a 12-foot wide mural accompanied by video-mask sculptures that erupt in Morse Code-like messages. In the earliest made work in the exhibition, the artist recites a text related to the story of Robinson Crusoe, but does so after hiring an acting coach to teach him to speak English with Swahili, Indian and Canadian accents – accents representing each of the artist’s own cultural backgrounds. The “diss” in disscontinent refers to the pronunciation of the word “this” in Afro-Caribbean English.

Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, Brendan Fernandes immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. He has exhibited nationally and internationally including exhibitions at The Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Art Gallery of York University, Manif d’Art: The Quebec City Biennial, The Third Guangzhou Triennial. He held the position of Artist in Residence at The School of Visual Arts, NY, in the graduate program for computer arts (2008). He is a recipient of a New Commissions Project through Art in General, NY (2010) and is a Sobey Art Award nominee. Fernandes splits his time between Toronto and New York.

This is Fernandes’ first solo show in the Lower Mainland.