By Marie-Caroline Roussel
Gallery GORA is not a typical art gallery. It is difficult to find, relatively unadvertised, and hidden from the outside world, despite existing in an impressively large space and at one of the busiest intersections of downtown Montreal. Even once I entered the gallery itself, I didn’t quite feel like I had arrived at the exhibition just yet. There is a confusing lack of certain usual indicators you expect from a gallery show, which means that visitors must navigate the space without a clue about where to start.
However, if you set aside these (and other, minor) curatorial missteps, you find that really anywhere you look is a good starting point. As with many gallery shows, this show does not follow a sequential logic, like the in chronological order often used in museum exhibits. It seems like the best way to view the exhibit is to immerse yourself into the world of the artworks - traveling with them wherever they take you. The mix of cultures and their aesthetics will have its effect on you regardless of where you start your visit.
Marie-Denise Douyon is a citizen of the world. She was born in Haiti but grew up in Morocco, and when she moved back to Haiti in her twenties, she was arbitrarily arrested, tortured and incarcerated. There, she found refuge in drawing and painting other women, an act which allowed her to process not only the angst and humiliation she experienced upon her arrest, but also new realizations about the society she was part of and the conditions of other women like herself. She fled to Montreal as a political refugee and remains here to this day, where she uses her art as a way to “reconstruct herself.”
Although the exhibition is in French, as the few words that accompany certain works are not translated, anyone can understand the message in Douyon’s art because it speaks directly to the heart. A melting pot of experiences, textures and feelings lie at the center of each piece. Douyon uses an astonishing range of media, including bicycle chains, thread, collage, oil, ink, wood, etc. She primarily draws inspiration from her African roots, but also plays with Creole and Japanese aesthetics. The artworks on display were created between 2012 to 2018 and are colorful, graphic and spiritual.
Douyon’s essential message in this show is about the reconstruction and reinvention of the self. Her shields made out of bicycle chains are the perfect embodiment of the idea that you can process your past experiences, turn them into something new and wear them as an armour that makes you stronger. I particularly liked Ferraille (FERAY) I, one of the three shields. The texture and obscurity introduced by the metal chains remind me of certain artworks by Pierre Soulages. The centermost element appears to me like a savannah landscape at the very dawn of day, when the light is nearly white. This work can be seen as a shield, in the way that I mentioned previously, but it also looks like you are looking through some kind of telescope: the concentric rings of the chains act as a frame of this unique view, giving it meaning.
She also sees life as an internal migration: her artworks are meant to make you travel around the world, but also within yourself. In that spacious, white-walled gallery, I have to say that taking your time to look at each piece is, indeed, a rewarding experience.
“L’Art de se recréer” is on from November 1st to November 24th at Gallery GORA.