Emma Harake’s artwork offers no background, yet all-the-more backstory
The seven works by Lebanese artist Emma Harake hanging in Théâtre Sainte-Catherine Café-Bar demand speculation.
The Art-UP! IX exhibition, organized by Studio Beluga, features Harake’s female subjects contending with changing concepts of identity and displacement, as they are cropped from their original background. Without any trace of a setting to suggest correct interpretations, viewers must fully engage the drawn female gazes to form their own ideas about these women’s backstories.
Harake, who is currently completing her master’s in fine arts at Concordia, draws the subjects on paper and later traces them with a needle to create depth—like etchings on a zinc plate, in which a sharp tool is used to created a design. She then applies colour to the deep etchings in the paper, what she calls the “scars” of the artworks, before deciding which elements of the background to crop or leave behind.
Her artistic influences, ranging from anime movies to comic books and literature like Arabian Nights and Le Petit Prince, help Harake imagine background stories for the out-of-place subjects hanging in frames. “Whenever I start a new project, I enjoy weaving stories and imagining alternative settings,” she said.
Harake sourced the female subjects from her family photos in a rather unconventional way. “Most of them are paintings of anonymous women found in the background of old family albums,” she said. “They are cropped out of their environments and striped of visual distractions.”
While scanning her collection of family photos, Harake became intrigued and later obsessed with a woman wearing a tight robe and high heels standing in the background of a birthday party scene. Her speculation of the woman’s identity inspired Harake to search for other photographed strangers to generate stories for—eventually leading her to create the series displayed at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine.
In this unique exhibition, the theme of displacement is demonstrated in various ways. The subjects are taken from their already out-of-place setting in the background of Harake’s family photos, and further displaced when the artist crops their drawn backdrops to leave the anonymous women without any context at all.
Although the subjects are anonymous to both the artist and the viewers, their portraits demonstrate relatable experiences of feeling out of place.. One of the larger works, Motherhood (2013), depicts a woman holding a white rabbit wearing a veterinary cone around its neck. Even though the figure is holding the rabbit, she’s not facing the animal or showing it any kind of affection. Her gaze leaves the viewers wondering about her backstory and how ‘motherhood’— of any sort— is significant to her sense of self.
One of the smaller works, titled Bound Together (2013), is relatable to many. “[The piece] investigates the eternal search for home and the modern sense that such a search is an unending gaze towards somewhere else,” Harake said. The woman sits on a pile of suitcases, searching for a comforting place to ease her instability. Although most of the background has been removed, an empty closet rod runs behind the figure’s head. It’s much like when someone moves into a new home and must fill the closets and cupboards with their possessions to make it their own, the piece evokes a sense of displacing oneself to start anew.
Viewers will find themselves engaging with the artworks, questioning the source of the figures’ speculative gazes, and ultimately, becoming just as curious and perhaps as obsessed as Harake was when she first came across that woman in the tight robe who stood frustrated in the background of her family’s photo.
The works will be displayed until Nov. 13, 2016 at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine Café-Bar, 264 Sainte Catherine Street.