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DARC’s thoughtful celebration of its 40th anniversary

By Sonya Gankina on April 28, 2022




To celebrate Digital Arts Resource Centre’s (DARC) 40th anniversary, Director Annette Hegel wants to not just look back at the last four decades but to look forward to the future and the present, “to make sense of this mess.”

Together with Curator Amin Alsaden, DARC chose to focus their special anniversary exhibition, Tending Land, on our relationship with the land, and to pay a poignant tribute to the Indigenous people of Canada, one artist at a time. Most of the creators have roots in the Global South and have experienced upheaval and displacement, either through their ancestors or at some point in their own lives. Of course, an Indigenous artist is participating in Tending Land but that’s not all—DARC has been consistently working with Indigenous artists for many years.

The key point, says Hegel, is that “the artists tell us what they want to do. We never prescribe a narrative. This space doesn’t tokenize—we give freedom and a platform to create, we give room to grow in dialogue with their strengths, aided by our tech equipment. Our job here is to share resources, provide access, and move away from capitalist models of revenue generation. Now that we are in the new space, we are blessed with a wealth of stuff for artists to create with. Our 40th birthday is a gift to our community to get inspired and create right here in Ottawa.”

DARC is also working on creating a residency for Indigenous artists, hiring more Indigenous curators, and always seeking out Indigenous artists, not just waiting for them to come. “This is our way of providing some reparation,” Hegel says.

I met with Hegel and Alsaden to chat about the organization’s literal and symbolic growth. Formerly SAW Video, DARC occupied a dingy basement in the Arts Court building measuring only 1,200 sq. ft. Now, DARC has over 5000 sq. ft. of space distributed amongst their storage of state-of-the-art tech equipment available for rent to members, a professional recording studio, an editing suite, an exhibition space, and a multi-flex room where workshops are hosted. When the neighbouring Ottawa Art Gallery opened in 2019, DARC grew its audience from 300 to multiple thousands and is now working tirelessly on new initiatives.

About the artists participating in Tending Land

Hiwa K (on display until April 29) was born in Kurdistan-Northern Iraq in 1975. His informal studies in his hometown of Sulaymaniyah were focused on European literature and philosophy, learnt from available books translated into Arabic. Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue) revisits parts of the artist’s long and arduous journey crossing Europe on foot from Iraqi Kurdistan to Germany. In this work, Hiwa K raises questions about how the specificity of place recedes, and a new relationship with the land emerges for those who need to flee their ancestral homelands and seek refuge elsewhere.

Monira Al Qadiri (on display May 3–20) is a Kuwaiti visual artist born in Senegal and educated in Japan. In 2010, she received a Ph.D. in intermedia art from Tokyo University of the Arts, where her research focused on the aesthetics of sadness in the Middle East stemming from poetry, music, art, and religious practices. Behind the Sun recalls one of the worst human-induced environmental disasters in recent history, when retreating Iraqi forces set ablaze Kuwaiti oil fields during the Gulf War. In this work, Monira Al Qadiri raises questions about humanity’s detrimental impact on land, whether through extractive capitalism, organized violence and endless conflict over resources, or deliberate acts of ecological sabotage.

Monira Al Qadiri, Behind the Sun, 2013. Single channel video, color, sound, 10:00 mins. Arabic with English subtitles. Courtesy the artist.

Samari Chakma + Naeem Mohaiemen (on display May 24–June 10): Samari Chakma was born in Khagrachari, Bangladesh. After her Masters in General History at Eden College, she received her law degree from World University of Bangladesh and was certified as a lawyer in 2013. Naeem Mohaiemen makes films, installations and essays about socialist utopia, unstable borders, and fading family units. Autobiography of the Drowned is an oral history of the Chakma Adivasi Indigenous people from Bangladesh, performed as an online dialogue between Chakma, in Sydney, Australia, and Mohaiemen, in Dhaka. The work raises questions about how the modern borders of formerly colonized nations have recreated patterns of oppression that entrapped Indigenous and minority groups, resulting in dispossession, persecution, and displacement from ancestral homelands.

Nguyễn Trinh Thi (on display June 14–30) is a Hanoi-based experimental filmmaker and moving image/media artist whose practice currently explores the power of sound and listening, and the multiple relations between image, sound, and space, with ongoing interests in memory, representation, landscape, indigeneity, and ecology. Letters from Panduranga is a portrait of Ninh Thuan (formerly known as Panduranga), the spiritual centre of the Cham Indigenous people, where the Vietnamese government plans to erect two nuclear power plants. In this work, Nguyễn Trinh Thi raises questions about the right to a land continuously inhabited by a community for hundreds of years, against a backdrop of tight national control, with the state inscribing the terrain through its power, built form, and extractive industries.

Joel Spring (on display July 5–22) is a Wiradjuri man raised between Redfern in inner city Sydney and Alice Springs in the Central Desert of Australia with a practice based in architecture and interdisciplinary research. The Island investigates the story of a piece of land that was recently erased from official maps after existing for over a century. Joel Spring raises questions about the purported veracity of cartography, and how maps often reflect the worldviews and prejudices of those who have the privilege of creating them.

Joel Spring, The Island, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Caroline Monnet (on display July 26–August 12) is a multidisciplinary artist from the Outaouais region of Quebec. Her work has been presented around the world and is present in numerous collections, including those of the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. The Black Case tells the story of a young girl and her infant cousin who endure a harrowing experience while quarantined in the infirmary of a residential school for Indigenous children. In this fictionalized depiction based on real events, Monnet and co-director Daniel Watchorn raise questions about the ideological claims and the policies and systems devised by settler colonialism to assert its control over land—by attempting, through forced assimilation, to erase the traditions and social ties that bound Indigenous communities together.

Visit DARC at 67 Nicholas St. to catch Hiwa K’s exhibition until April 29 and the next exhibitions in the series until August 12.