Taslim Samji is the curator for a new exhibition at the Newton Cultural Centre that features the work of female Ismaili Muslim artists. Behind her is her painting Tree of Pluralism. Below are Shamina Senaratne's piece

Finding similarities in our differences

Surrey exhibition by female Ismaili Muslim artists shows 'we are all interconnected,' says curator.

SURREY, BC – For artist Taslim Samji, solutions to the most difficult problems can often be found in the simplest of answers.

The Vancouver artist and writer is the guest curator of the most recent exhibition at the Newton Cultural Centre gallery.

Called Commonality, it features the work of nine professional and emerging female artists, all of whom are Ismaili Muslims who have roots in East Africa, India or Pakistan – though all have called Canada home for decades.

It’s a “slice” of a specific minority group, Samji says, who share their ideas, memories and inspiration through their contemporary artwork.

But while the artists may represent what may be, to many, a segment of society they’re not entirely familiar with, Samji says people might be surprised.

“It’s a shocker because what they see is the ideas these women are talking about are the same as other women of other cultures in Canada,” she says.

“The more you look at diversity, the more you find that we are all interconnected. At the end of the day, we’re all people, we’re all part of this human species.”

Samji curated an art show with six female Muslim artists a year ago in Burnaby, and discovered it was not just an eye-opener for non-Muslims, but for those within the Muslim community as well.

“One thing I found is there is a lot of education that needs to be done within the Indo-Canadian community and external community about the Indo Canadian community. People sometimes tend to just lump all the Indo Canadians together.”

The Surrey exhibition, which opens today (Friday, Jan. 15), features about 20 pieces of art, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and other mixed-media work.

The show also includes a collaborative piece Samji did with Sikh artist Kelly Kaur. While Kaur examines the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) and its quotes on humanity and peace, Samji does the same with the Quran (Muslim holy book). The similarities, they found, were striking.

“Even with the Christian Bible, there’s so much commonality in the messages. I think that needs to be brought forward, instead of constantly looking at these divisions,” said Samji, who hopes the art show builds awareness about the links between the various cultures and religions.

“We’re not that different… whether we like it or not.”

She said through smaller community exhibitions, she finds she can better connect with the “grass roots” and build bridges in the seemingly diverse population. The increased understanding, she says, inevitably leads to compassion, rather than fear.

“Step by step, with each exhibition, with each show, I think it really helps,” said Samji. “To me, I think that’s one thing I can do.”

And while solving the world’s issues might seem overwhelming, Samji maintains the answer may be easier than we think.

“Let’s just go back to the ABCs: We are all interconnected, we all exist in this globe together.”

Commonality opens at the Newton Cultural Centre gallery (13530 72 Ave.) on Friday, with an opening reception taking place Saturday, Jan. 16, 1-3 p.m. A digital film will also be shown at the reception.

In addition to Samji and Kaur, participating artists include Shazia’Ayn Babul, Naznin Virji-Babul, Sher Nasser, Yasmin P. Karim, Shamina Senaratne, Almas Alibhai and Leah McCullough.

The show runs until Jan. 30. For more information or gallery hours, call 604-594-2700 or check here.

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