of longing and songbirds

Rihab Essayh

Main Space
October 4 – December 10, 2022
Workshop: October 1, 12–2pm
Open Preview: October 1, 2-3:30pm

Rihab Essayh’s solo exhibition of longing and songbirds offers a space of refuge through its immersive large-scale sculptural installation and sound recordings. Viewers are invited to inhabit the exhibition: resting on stone-shaped cushions within a floating tent structure dappled with blushes of colour, or looking into a reflective pond while listening to birdsong and poetry. Conceived during the pandemic, this contemplative installation extends Essayh’s self-care outward into a new community.

Image: Rihab Essayh, A Soft Landing, 2021, installation shot | Photo credit: Jack McCombe

Rihab Essayh is an interdisciplinary artist building worlds and large-scale installations. Her recent tactile and immersive environments emerge from her efforts to support the conditions for “radical softness” – an idea that suggests that showing emotions and vulnerability is a political gesture in a society that prioritizes intellect and indifference. Based on principles of empathy, belonging, and care, Essayh is interested in the human state in a digital age when part of our identity and social encounter reside online, particularly important in the context of the pandemic and its drastic social and emotional impacts. In terms of technical expertise, Rihab is deepening her knowledge of materials to move her practice forward. She seeks to foster a feeling of ambivalence in the viewer, with the interest of blending personal, analytical and universal attributes. Essayh uses lightness and delicacy that is the cumulative effect of the constructed landscape to speak to her vision of a soft futurism; an imagined future, a hopeful new space that is de-centering, intersectional, inclusive, and radically soft.

In this exhibition, of longing and songbirds, an ethereal floating tent “الغسق لجوقة العصافير عند الغسق (Longing for a choir of sparrows at dusk),” is spray-painted with the colours of the sunrise she experienced in her new home in Guelph, Ontario, and accompanied by a sound recording of birds heard in the early mornings. Made when the artist felt most isolated and in need of comfort, the tent became a place where she could feel secure, find rest, and land softly.

Rihab Essayh, A Soft Landing, 2021, installation shot | Photo credit: Jack McCombe

Rihab Essayh

Rihab Essayh is a Canadian-Moroccan interdisciplinary artist whose large-scale, immersive installations create spaces of slowing down and softening. Her research considers issues of isolation and disconnection in the digital age, imagining futurities of soft-strength and social reconnection by proposing a heightened attunement to colour, costume, tactility and sound. She obtained her BFA at Concordia University in Montreal in 2017 and her MFA at the University of Guelph in 2022. Essayh has exhibited work at Conseil des Art de Montréal, La centrale Powerhouse, Fofa Gallery, Never Apart, Art Souterrain festival, The plumb and the Art Gallery of Guelph.

Union Gallery thanks the Provost's Advisory Committee on the Promotion of the Arts at Queen's University for supporting of longing and songbirds and affiliated programming through the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund. The artist would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.