i am my mother’s daughter

Self inquiry in the art of Farheen Haq
By Sonali Menezes
Aankh band ke dekho (Close your eyes and see) 2022 video still 2

Farheen Haq, Aankh band ke dekho (Close your eyes and see) video still 2, 2022, Courtesy of the Artist.

میں اپنی ماں کی بیٹی ہوں ….. I am my mother’s daughter
Artist Farheen Haq
Circulated by the Campbell River Art Gallery
Curated by Haema Sivanesan & Janelle M. Pasiechnik
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario
June 23 - December 31, 2023

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Growing up in a family of six, the first person to wake up each morning always put on the kettle for tea. No matter if you had grown into the taste of tea yet, you made a full pot of tea for everyone. My maternal grandparents lived down the street from my childhood home. If you made it home from school in good time and didn’t dawdle, you could walk down the street straight through the frequently unlocked door and sit down for an afternoon cup of tea with Mama. On Friday March 13, 2020 when the first lockdown of COVID-19 was announced, I walked straight home from the gallery where my artist talk and exhibition had just been canceled and made a cup of tea. When my parents, brother and I visited my paternal grandmother in heart failure last week, my father immediately made a pot of tea for everyone visiting. When Farheen was invited to participate in an exhibition, she started with inviting the curator over to her home for a cup of tea.
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Farheen Haq, Aankh band ke dekho (Close your eyes and see) video still 2, 2022, Courtesy of the artist.

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Farheen Haq, Folding Time, video still, 2020, Courtesy of the artist.

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Farheen Haq, Silsila, video still, 2018, Courtesy of the artist.

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Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.

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Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.

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Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.

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Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.

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Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.

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Farheen Haq, Aankh band ke dekho (Close your eyes and see) video still 2, 2022, Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq, Folding Time, video still, 2020, Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq, Folding Time, video still, 2020, Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq. Installation view of I am my mother's daughter exhibition, 2022 Campbell River Art Gallery. Bluetree Photography.
Farheen Haq. Forgiveness single channel video still, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq. Forgiveness single channel video still, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq. Forgiveness single channel video still, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
Farheen Haq. Forgiveness single channel video still, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
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For many in the South Asian diaspora, we have learned many lessons from tea, primarily from our mothers and grandmothers. Tea teaches us about taking a moment of pause, to collect ourselves and plan the next few steps forwards. It is a warm offering of care, to our own bodies and to others. It is how we gather and extend welcome to family, friends and strangers. Often tea is simply how we start the day, away from the blue-light of screens with a slow infusion of caffeine, gentle acidity tempered with milk: liquid comfort. We prepare it, eyes half closed. We know it so well.

In ‘Drinking from my Mother’s Saucer,’ the first video work that appears in the solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Farheen takes that epitome of comfort, and gently unsettles our comfort. As Farheen pours tea from a copper pot into a bone china cup inherited from her children’s British great grandfather, the teacup begins to shake with the pounding sound of a buffalo stampede. This shaking calls to mind the way her mother shook on the plane ride from Pakistan to Canada upon immigration. It reminds us of the historical policies that ‘cleared the plains,’ violently displacing Indigenous people from the prairies to make way for settlers. Our comforting positions of ‘racialized,’ and ‘colonized,’ are suddenly met with apparent contradictions of concurrent positions as ‘uninvited guest,’ ‘settler,’ and ‘colonizer.’ These are questions that many South Asian immigrants and second-generation immigrants are grappling with. We are told to sit with these questions and discomfort, the way we sit with a cup of tea. Let it steep. This discomfort welcomes us as we enter the gallery.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi.

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Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
Installation view of I am my mother’s daughter, 2023. Art Gallery of Hamilton. Photo by Lisa Narduzzi
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Farheen continues to play with notions of comfort and discomfort in ‘Silsila,’ a three-channel video displayed on three monitors mounted on the wall and ‘Hamara Badan,’ a performative and sculptural floor piece. In these two artworks, Farheen starts with lentils, which for me, brings to mind dal, a lentil-based comfort dish. If I had to choose one meal to eat every day, it would be dal and rice. And when I need to feed a large group of people in my home, I make dal. When someone is recovering from surgery, I make dal. When a stomach is upset, I make dal (with more ginger). In the dead of a cold Ontario winter, I make dal (with more chillies and more ghee). First, the lentils need to be sifted. This is to remove any debris (no one wants the discomfort of biting down on a tiny rock). Next, the lentils are washed, then set to soak in water overnight. Typically, dal is cooked the next day. And, if you are like me, you will always recall your mother reminding you not to add the salt until the very end, otherwise the lentils will take forever to cook.

In ‘Silsila,’ a gentle stream of red lentils flows through the fingertips of a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter, in a gesture of collective sifting and passing of wisdom, intergenerationally. On the floor directly in front of ‘Silsila’ sits a circular mound of 140 pounds of red lentils on a white rectangular cloth meant to represent a funeral cloth. Titled ‘Hamara Badan', Farheen gestures to her mother through the representation of the weight of her body in lentils. I am thinking about what would be involved in carefully sifting through 140 pounds of lentils. And I wonder how many pounds of lentils Farheen’s mother has lovingly sifted, washed, soaked, and cooked for her family in her lifetime.

The funeral cloth brings to mind the proximity of death and the memory of my maternal grandmother lovingly preparing a pot of dal; her standing at the stove while I sip a cup of tea, sitting at her kitchen table. That was before dementia stole her knowledge of cooking from her, but not from us. Because even though she is now sitting at my kitchen table sipping tea, while I stir a pot of dal on the stove, and even though she used to complain that I add too much ginger, chili and turmeric and not enough salt, I am still learning the lessons that she has taught me. These are lessons Farheen reminds us of, through her art, that are living and breathing inside of all second-generation immigrants, if only we take a moment of pause to recognize and honour our mothers’ and grandmothers’ wisdom. Maybe over a cup of tea.

Sonali Menezes
Sonali Menezes is an artist, writer and zinester based in Hamilton, ON. She makes a lot of art about food.
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