University of Calgary

International exhibitions

UToday HomeOctober 12, 2012

By Heath McCoy

Chika Modum pieced together more than 1,000 black garbage bags in the fashion of braided hair. Her work is on display in the Nickle Galleries now. Photo by Riley BrandtChika Modum pieced together more than 1,000 black garbage bags in the fashion of braided hair. Her work is on display in the Nickle Galleries now. Photo by Riley BrandtTwo University of Calgary art students from international backgrounds have been turning heads abroad, with their work featured in major international exhibitions.

An oil painting by Egyptian artist Lamis Haggag was on view earlier this month at the Beijing International Art Biennale and, last summer, the mixed media work of Nigeria’s Chika Modum was in the spotlight at Dak’Art 2012, a Biennale of contemporary African art in Senegal.

The Biennale work of both artists was profoundly influenced by their respective cultural experiences, although Haggag didn’t realize as much when creating her piece.

“I considered my art to be separate from my personal and political experience,” she says. “But apparently, without noticing, I was affected by what was happening in Egypt.”

In 2011, Haggag took part in the civil uprising against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. It was a moment she describes as both beautiful and frightening and it changed Haggag.

“Now I have an agreement with myself that I’m never going to stay silent,” says the MFA student from Cairo. “I’m not going to shut up about anything I can’t accept.”

Haggag’s feelings about the conflict in her homeland are expressed in the piece which was on view in Beijing, featuring a solitary figure looking longingly outside the frame of the painting, as if wanting to escape. The shadow cast by that figure, however, is more grounded in the work as if wanting to remain.

For Modum’s part, her work at Dak’Art, Isa-Aka, was consciously influenced by her roots. For that project the Nigerian artist and recent MFA graduate pieced together more than 1,000 black garbage bags in the fashion of braided hair.

Growing up in West Africa, having her hair braided was a “mundane, everyday practice,” says Modum. When she came to Canada six years ago, Modum began braiding garbage bags as a way of “depositing my cultural residue in new spaces.”

“It was a way of making this new environment feel familiar in some way,” she says.

In the end, the striking, meticulously crafted braids of Isa-Aka hung over 12 feet long.

Being a part of Dak’Art, celebrating contemporary African art before the eyes of the world, was a moment of immense pride for Modum.

A continuation of Isa-Aka, entitled Braided Hair, is on view at the Nickle Galleries through Oct. 20 as part of the 2012 MFA Thesis Exhibition.