After 27 of walking from Toronto to Hamilton, Abedar Kamgari and her crew of four were overcome by a wave of exhaustion as they dipped their swollen feet in buckets of ice water.
The crew stayed patient and supportive as Abedar silently travelled through concrete jungle, open land and back to the familiar sidewalks of downtown Hamilton. With each step of the journey, Abedar was recalling memories and experiences of being a refugee and immigrant.
Abedar’s 27-hour video, family archives and historical artwork from other Hamilton-based artists make up The Journey West exhibit currently in display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
The visual artist and McMaster University fine arts graduate had always been invested in social issues. Art became a way of communicating her ideas, starting conversation and addressing issues around her.
“It’s not necessarily from a desire to share my story, it’s more from a desire to address or [critically] think about things that are happening, that affect me and everyone else, in different ways,” explained Abedar.
“If you go into the gallery during that time, there’s nothing happening, which can be kind of frustrating, but I wanted to be honest in that way and portray the duration of it. I felt like if I put cuts into that video, then people wouldn’t understand the physicality of the duration.”
The Journey West is a performance-for-video inspired by Abedar’s two-year experience as a refugee in Turkey after leaving Iran by boat and train with her mother. Abedar wanted to address larger social issues by looking inwards.
“It’s not only heavily influenced by my own memories but my mom also kept thorough diaries from that time, I had to beg her to let me read them. A lot of the narrative that comes through is me embodying my own experiences and hers because I felt like my experience as a refugee was so tied to hers,” explained Abedar.
“I was a kid so everything I was experiencing, I experienced through her lens because I was always looking up to her and she was the only person I had.”
The Journey West is a rendition of the refugee and immigrant narrative with raw emotions, passages and recollections of Abedar’s family history. Abedar wanted to capture the entirety of the journey and even included eight hours of darkness as she slept overnight.
“If you go into the gallery during that time, there’s nothing happening, which can be kind of frustrating, but I wanted to be honest in that way and portray the duration of it. I felt like if I put cuts into that video, then people wouldn’t understand the physicality of the duration,” said Abedar.
The journey was physically exhausting, but Abedar also carried the emotional weight of loneliness and fear that refugees often feel, with every step of the way. She recalled that at the time she was in Turkey, her experience felt like a drawn out period of anxiously waiting.
“There were a couple diary entries by mom where she’s talking about her friends in Turkey, and when we were leaving she felt like she didn’t have any genuine connections to anyone and she felt very alone,” said Abedar.
“I was really interested in thinking about that as I was walking, so I wasn’t communicating with anyone, it was just all me walking in that space.”
Abedar choose to put herself in a vulnerable space in order to explore her interest in diaspora, displacement and evolving notions of shared culture heritage. Art is her tool in making connections to not only her own legacy, but the formative issues that impact others around her.
The Journey West will be on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton until Mar. 18, 2018.