Farihah Aliyah Shah: An Act of Irrepressible Reclamation

November 26, 2021 – February 11, 2022

(The Gallery is closed for winter break from December 18 – January 7, reopening on Saturday, January 8)

Watch the recorded artist talk here!

Curated by eva birhanu

Stride Gallery is excited to present An Act of Irrepressible Reclamation, an exhibition of artist Farihah Aliyah Shah’s photography and film work, curated by eva birhanu. Shah’s new body of work, Without a Leg to Stand On (2021) challenges the technological changes to film and photo production and racial bias throughout the decades. This new series debuts in her solo exhibition from November 26th, 2021 to February 11th, 2022.

Artist Statement:

Without a Leg to Stand On (2021)

Historically, Black people have faced several points of impasse on the promise of change; slavery to emancipation, segregation to civil rights and finally to present day.

This series reflects what it means for our society to be at yet another junction for change. As an artist who mainly engages with the still-image, I am reminded daily that this medium was not created for inclusion. It symbolizes a tool of class, power and position. When photography became more accessible and colour film was introduced to the middle class, the chemical process used white skin to calibrate images via Kodak’s Shirley Cards. This meant that darker skin tones appeared washed out, grey and inhuman. This was another subtle reminder that Black people and other racialized folks outside the realm of “normal” did not belong. The industry’s change was not spurred by the realization that their product or process was racist. However, the change stemmed from a need to satisfy commercial photography for realistic photographs to sell chocolate and wooden furniture. Property, objects and prosperity were revered over the idea of a Black person’s ability to engage in accurately capturing their image.

In this series, the Shirley Cards are deconstructed into gestures using fragmented body parts (feet, face and hands), wooden table legs, white satin gloves and pearls. The title references the idiom “not to have a leg to stand on” meaning one’s argument is without evidence or merit; this characterizes the ideology of white supremacy. It is nothing more than a fickle fable however the tale persists to impact our society. The images utilize elements of abstraction and fake objects and are paired with a single-channel video installation, which explore the appropriation of Black culture.

As we are challenged by various calls to action to disrupt and dismantle frameworks of white supremacy and colonization, will our impetus to change be motivated by social consciousness or will we continue to only support causes we are able to financially capitalize.

Farihah Aliyah Shah is a lens-based artist from Bradford, Ontario. She holds a BFA in Photography with a minor in Integrated Media from OCAD University. Using photography, video and sound installation, her practice has discourse with photographic history and explores identity formation through the colonial gaze, race, connectivity to land, and collective memory. Shah was the 2019 recipient of the John Hartman Award. She currently is a member at Gallery 44 – Centre for Contemporary Photography and Women Photograph an organization that advocates for Female Identified and Non-Binary photojournalists. Shah has exhibited internationally in Asia, Europe, and North America.

eva birhanu is an interdisciplinary artist and emerging curator working in Mohkinstis (Calgary, Alberta) Treaty 7 Territory. Born in Canada to immigrant parents from Denmark and Ethiopia, she focuses on identity and biraciality in her work. eva works in mediums of fibre and sculpture, auto-ethnographically exploring exoticism, objectification and more recently ally performativity. In her practice, eva often incorporates iconography of her own racial identity as a way to portray microaggressions felt by biracial and Black women. eva’s emerging curatorial practice stems from wanting to reflect the community where she lives, in gallery spaces, focusing on the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour. eva recently graduated with distinction from Alberta University of the Arts with a BFA in Fibre. She is currently the Curatorial Resident at Stride Gallery, exploring her emerging curatorial practice.

Special thank you to the Ontario Arts Council for support of this exhibition.

We thank Resolve Photo for their support towards the print production of this project.

Documentation by Han SungPil.