Twenty years ago, October 4,1997 became an important marker in the Canadian contemporary art when the art work of Zainub Verjee –– a 4 channel, 8 monitor video installation –– was for the first time exhibited in a Jamatkhana in Canada.
The Burnaby Art Gallery produced a series of exhibitions in 1997 entitled Tracing Cultures – III which addressed cultural hybridity and communication through difference. This focus was influenced by cultural politics of the times. Karen Henry the curator of the exhibition made Zainub’s work as part of the series and bravely decided to showcase the work in the
Jamatkhana since the artist underlined that it was about her community and they should see it.
Titled Through the Sole of My Mothers Feet, Zainub’s installation is based on the idea of what she termed “NOMADIC ARCHITECTURE” — the physical and social structures which cultures take with them to maintain coherence with their histories. The conceptual structure uses a journey as the primary form. The artwork is a 4 channel, 8 monitor video installation situated in the social hall of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre.
The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre built in 1985 was the first Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre constructed in North America. The building and courtyard are built using traditional islamic architectural principles which derive from various Islamic cultures and heritages and have been carried across a number of continents.
In this work Zainub is retelling a story about herself, her family histories and her own culture. The octagonal form which is incorporated into the building is reflected in the artwork.
This work is a tracing of cultural memory, a tracking of nomadic experience.
Zainub says, “Nomadic architecture is about everything that has been given. It is about the passing on of language, culture, rites and rituals and a deeply rooted value system.
Architecture includes not only built structures, but also the total way in which a culture uses time and space in conceptualizing its social existence. Nomadic architecture arises out the enquiry of the self and moves from the personal to the historical, geopolitical and the social terrain. From its inception, this work has been a dedication to the women in my community and especially to my mother.”
Zainub a fourth generation Kenyan, was born in Nairobi. This work maps the trajectory of the migrations of the Zainub’s family from Gujarat (India) to East Africa and then to the West – in UK and Canada.
The work was funded by Canada Council for the Arts. It took more than six years to make this work which constituted travels across Asia, Africa, the UK and Canada.