Complex Weaves: Middle Eastern Stories of Identity and Politics through Textiles

A talk with Fahmida Suleman, Royal Ontario Museum
Sunday, May 26, 2019 | 2 PM | FREE

Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street

Since the earliest periods of Islamic history, textiles have functioned as markers of cultural and regional identity as well as political allegiance and conflict. In modern times, artists and craftspeople across the Middle East and Central Asia and in diaspora communities have continued to express their personal and collective experiences through textiles. In this talk, Dr. Fahmida Suleman will explore a number of historic and contemporary examples in their regional and political contexts.

Presented in association with the Koffler Gallery exhibition Nevet Yitzhak: WarCraft.

Dr. Fahmida Suleman is Curator of Islamic Art & Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum and was previously Phyllis Bishop Curator for the Modern Middle East at the British Museum in London, England. She is the author of Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life (Thames & Hudson and British Museum, 2017).

Image caption: Narcissist by Sara Rahbar, USA/Iran, 2014 © Trustees of the British Museum and courtesy of Sara Rahbar

Shaista Latif: learning the language of my enemies

April 4 – May 26, 2019
Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street

This two-channel video and sound installation by Afghan-Canadian artist Shaista Latif is an intervention and an attempt at empathetic critique. Commissioned by the Koffler Gallery to create a response to what resists explication, Latif confronts notions of appropriation and challenges the essentialization of Afghan culture by questioning the art world’s relationship to individual authorship and orientalism. In conversation with members of the Afghan community, learning the language of my enemies is a process-based work that will continue to evolve throughout the course of the exhibition. The artist will act as a conduit for investigating the languages of protest and invitation.

Presented in conjunction with Nevet Yitzhak: WarCraft.

Image above: Shaista Latif, learning the language of my enemies (video still), 2019.

Artist and Curator Talk: Nevet Yitzhak in conversation with Liora Belford

Sunday, April 7, 2019  | 2 PM | FREE
Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street

In conversation with curator Liora Belford, artist Nevet Yitzhak will share the conceptual development and technical process of creating her compelling three-channel video installation WarCraft (2014), presented at the Koffler Gallery. Providing insight into her broader artistic practice, Yitzhak will discuss the ways in which she approaches cultural research and digital technologies to engage notions of heritage, suppressed histories, collective forgetfulness and identity from her perspective as an Arab Jew, marginalized within the Eurocentric discourse of mainstream Israeli society. The artist and curator will also address questions of power relations and cultural appropriation, inviting community dialogue on these critical themes.

Presented together with Nevet Yitzhak: WarCraft, at the Koffler Gallery from April 4 – May 26, 2019. A Primary Exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, presented in partnership with Images Festival.


September 18 – November 17, 2019
Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street

Artists: Mary Anne Barkhouse, Gwenaël Bélanger, Katherine Boyer, Sandra Brewster, Hannah Claus, Erika DeFreitas, Julie Favreau, Nicolas Fleming, Iris Häussler, Lucy Howe, Gunilla Josephson, Lewis Kaye, Valérie Kolakis, Carmela Laganse, Heather Nicol, Dainesha Nugent-Palache, Gord Peteran, Birthe Piontek, Yannick Pouliot, Adrienne Spier, Karen Tam, Kevin Yates, Shaheer Zazai, Shellie Zhang

Curator: Mona Filip
Art Director: Nicolas Fleming

Fall Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 | 7–9 PM | FREE

Through critical investigations of the domestic realm, Undomesticated considers the psychological, political and emotional layers that shape our sense of home and belonging. Detouring the objects and settings of dwelling spaces, the exhibition addresses an underlying impossibility to fully adapt to or tame our environments in order to construct places where our bodies and psyches can seamlessly fit in.

Driven by survival instinct, humans constantly transform landscapes and ecosystems in search of shelter, security, nourishment, and a more elusive notion of ‘well-being.’ With both positive and negative impact, these transformations seek to eradicate or control what we perceive to be ‘wild’ in search of economic and psychological benefits. Our views and treatment of the natural environment are paralleled in our homes where domesticating tendencies fully manifest in our endless pursuit of comfort.

Engaging with different aspects of the household territory, the artists in this exhibition explore both the influences of external pressures and the outcomes of inherent politics, ranging from diasporic and colonial experiences to aging or displacement. Working in a wide range of media, they transform the everyday to reveal its hidden, unyielding strangeness. Ubiquitous furniture, objects and materials are stripped of their familiarity to access deeper levels of relationship to our surroundings.

The exhibition extends from the Koffler Gallery into the hallways and stairwells of Artscape Youngplace. The look and function of these public spaces are disrupted by artist Nicolas Fleming who takes on a complex role as the art director of the exhibition, reframing the architectural context for the project and staging the artworks in an immersive environment. Working with building materials and techniques developed through his work as an art installer, Fleming diverts the primary functions of commercial supplies like drywall and plaster, blurring their status by enabling overlooked aesthetic attributes to supersede their intended purpose.

As the initial function of domestic objects is supplanted, the tension between their practical and artistic qualities generates uncertainty and destabilizes assumptions. These alienating ambiguities unwelcome our presence, inviting us perhaps to consider, like philosopher Theodor Adorno, that the highest form of morality might be to not feel at home in one’s own home.


Lead Exhibition Sponsor





Image at top: Nicolas Fleming, Une causeuse, une distributrice d’eau, un vase. Exhibition view, Centre CLARK, Montreal (QC), 2018. Photo credit: Paul Litherland.

Playing Field: A Conversation

Sunday, March 10, 2019 | 2 PM | FREE 
Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street

Through game and playground metaphors, Ghazaleh Avarzamani’s current exhibition at the Koffler Gallery examines the role of empirical experience, memory, psychology and socio-political influences in building both personal and collective knowledge. Considering a range of spaces, structures and devices for interactivity, self-development and play, Never Never Land questions the rules and methodologies that shape an individual’s outlook.

In conversation with Ghazaleh Avarzamani, visual artist Golboo Amani, psychotherapist Agnieszka Gozlan and playground designer Tatiana Zakharova will expand the discussion of educational methodologies, social aspirations and the function of playing in human development.

Presented in association with Ghazaleh Avarzamani: Never Never Land, until March 17 at the Koffler Gallery.

Image: Ghazaleh Avarzamani, Regarding Playground (detail), 2018. 18 framed drawings, 11” x 14.3” each. Ink on dot gridded paper. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Peter’s Proscenium: Christian Hidaka & Raphaël Zarka

June 20 – August 18, 2019
Koffler Gallery
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street
Curator: Mona Filip

SUMMER OPENING RECEPTION: Thursday, June 20, 2019 | 7–9 PM | FREE
ARTIST TALK: Sunday, June 23, 2019 | 2 PM | FREE

Bringing the work of artists Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka in Toronto for the first time, this exhibition expands their continuing dialogue around the connected histories of scientific, philosophic and artistic invention.

Primarily sculptural yet often extending into photography, drawing and writing, Zarka’s work relies on the collection and re-contextualization of iconic forms that range from minimal to complex geometries. Similarly, Hidaka draws from distinct sets of visual languages to create paintings that merge contradictory references and techniques of representation.

The vast lexicon of spaces and forms serves as an ecology of critical and contemporary relevance for Zarka and Hidaka as they repurpose existing structures, subvert linear histories and disrupt prescribed canons. The one-point perspective of Italian Renaissance shaped by Piero della Francesca and the influence of Ancient Greek geometry merges seamlessly with alternative depictions of the pictorial plane, boundlessly unfolding as in Chinese and Japanese painted scrolls. Overshadowing viewpoints are counter-balanced by equalizing oblique perspective, creating ambiguities that undermine hierarchical notions and suggest the countless, interweaved cultural forms, codes and stories that populate our environments.

For Peter’s Proscenium, Hidaka and Zarka consider the gallery as a site of intellectual reflection where ideas and thoughts are distilled. Inspired by the original architecture of the gallery – the repurposed library of a former elementary school – the artists’ vision derives from their awareness of a concealed arched proscenium now hidden by the renovations. These buried vestiges of previous use, along with the visual explorations of 17th century German stonemason and draughtman Peter Halt, inspire a site-specific spatial investigation. As Hidaka considers the entwined histories of theatre and the development of pictorial space, Zarka translates Halt’s intriguing geometric drawings of volumes into three-dimensional objects, threading a conversation around both art and science’s drive to investigate and grasp reality.

Staging the gallery as a site for observation and reflection, Hidaka’s murals create the illusion of endless space while focusing attention inwards, where Zarka’s sculptures become mysterious protagonists. Backgrounds move forward into the spotlight, while viewers become actors in the performance of the art encounter. Making irreverent connections and disturbing dominant outlooks, Hidaka and Zarka invite us to explore shifting positions that question the representation of reality as absolute, favouring generative inconsistencies and plurality of views.



Exhibition is generously supported by Institut français and The Cultural & Science Services of the Embassy of France in Canada.

Christian Hidaka was born in Noda, Japan and currently lives and works in London, UK. He studied Fine Art at Winchester School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, London. Hidaka’s paintings have been widely exhibited internationally, including solo and group shows at MNAC Bucharest (Romania), MAK Vienna, CAC Le Grand Café (St Nazaire), Synagogue de Delme (France), MUDAM (Luxembourg), Torrance Art Museum (USA), The Weisman Art Museum (USA) and The Goss-Michael Foundation (Dallas, TX), Le Consortium (Dijon) and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. His work is in numerous collections, including Centre National d’Art Plastique, France, MUDAM Collection, Luxembourg, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, The Saatchi Gallery, London, Sigg Collection, Switzerland, and many others. He is represented by Michel Rein Gallery, Paris/Brussels.

Raphaël Zarka was born in Montpellier, France and studied at the Winchester School of Art, UK and at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he lives and works up to this day. Zarka’s works have been exhibited in institutions worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo (Roma), Museo el Eco (Mexico), Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Espai d’art Contemporani de Castelló (Castellon), Museum of Modern Art (Oxford). His work is part of prestigious collections, he was awarded the Prize of Fondation d’entreprise Ricard in 2008 and he was nominated for the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2013. Zarka is also the author of four books related to the practice of skateboarding published by B42. He is represented by Michel Rein Gallery, Paris/Brussels and Luciana Brito, São Paulo.

Image at top: Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka, Gnomonica, 2019 (exhibition detail, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest). Photo: Raphaël Zarka.

Wesley Morris in Conversation

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 7 PM (doors 6 PM)
Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St West

Tickets: $30 General Admission | $25 Student/Senior
A limited number of rush tickets will be available at the door

Preferred Access Tickets: $250*

The Koffler Centre of the Arts is thrilled to present American journalist, film critic and podcast host Wesley Morris, in conversation with Canadian broadcaster and writer Amanda Parris.

Wesley Morris is critic-at-large at the The New York Times and a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, where he writes about film, television, theatre and media, often with a focus on social justice, race, politics, and black and queer representation in American popular culture today. Morris also hosts the Times podcast Still Processing with Jenna Wortham. For three years, he was a staff writer at Grantland, where he wrote about movies, television, and the role of style in professional sports, and co-hosted the podcast Do You Like Prince Movies with Alex Pappademas. Before that, he spent 11 years as a film critic at the Boston Globe, where he won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts, hosts three CBC television series (Exhibitionists, The Filmmakers and From the Vaults), and is the radio host of Marvin’s Room on CBC Music. She also writes stories for the stage and screen. Parris is the co-founder of the award-winning alternative education organization Lost Lyrics, and worked with The Remix Project and the Manifesto Festival.

2019 Books & Ideas Series is presented in partnership with Ben McNally Books.

* Preferred Access Ticket includes reserved/best in-house seating, a pre-event reception at Isabel Bader Theatre, and a tax receipt for the maximum allowable amount.

For more information:
Lauren Abecassis-Kandravy, Director of Development
647-925-0643 ext. 226

Flowers at the event generously provided by




Wednesday, May 29, 2019 | 11 AM – 1 PM | FREE (Registration required)
Paintbox Bistro
555 Dundas Street East


In conversation with local content creators and cultural producers, the Koffler Centre for the Arts and the Regent Park Film Festival have invited Wesley Morris to share insights about his trajectory as a journalist, film critic, and podcaster for a student audience. From discussing the writer’s craft and his approach to cultural commentary to what one gains and loses by becoming a public figure, this educational talk will be oriented towards individuals embarking upon careers in journalism, media, and the arts. Time permitting, local panelists will be invited to share their respective works before Morris and the audience to add more texture and context to the conversation. The discussion will be followed by a Q&A.

Moderated by Tendisai Cromwell, Executive Director of the Regent Park Film Festival.




Presented by the Koffler Centre of the Arts in partnership with the Regent Park Film Festival and creative producer, Kehinde Bah.

Amitava Kumar in Conversation

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | 7 PM (doors 6 PM)
The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St West

Tickets: Pay What you Can Afford $10 | $15 | $20

Preferred Access Tickets (reception with author, signed book): $250*

The Koffler Centre of the Arts’ 2019 Books & Ideas Series continues with award-winning author and journalist Amitava Kumar, in conversation with award-winning novelist and visual artist, Shani Mootoo.

Award-winning writer and journalist Amitava Kumar is the author of several books of non-fiction, poetry, and his most recent novel, Immigrant, Montana — one of President Obama’s favourite books of 2018. Immigrant, Montana was also selected by the New York Times and the New Yorker as one of the top titles of the past year.  Born in Ara, India, Kumar grew up in the nearby town of Patna, famous for its corruption, crushing poverty, and delicious mangoes. He lives in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, where he is Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. In 2016, Amitava Kumar was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a Ford Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists.

Read Amitava Kumar’s “Being Indian in Trump’s America” in The New Yorker.

Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland, grew up in Trinidad and has lived in Canada most of her life. She writes fiction and poetry, and is a visual artist whose paintings and short videos have been exhibited locally and internationally. Mootoo’s critically acclaimed novels include Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, Valmiki’s Daughter, He Drown She in the Sea, and Cereus Blooms at Night. She is a recipient of the K.M. Hunter Arts Award, a Chalmers Fellowship Award, and most recently the James Duggins Outstanding Midcareer Novelist Award. She lives in Southern Ontario.

2019 Books & Ideas Series is presented in partnership with Ben McNally Books.

* Preferred Access Ticket includes reserved/best in-house seating, a signed copy of Immigrant, Montana, a pre-event reception in the Conversation Hall, and a tax receipt for the maximum allowable amount.

Preferred Access Tickets can also be purchased by contacting:
Lauren Abecassis-Kandravy, Director of Development
647-925-0643 ext. 226

Flowers at the event generously provided by




Photo: Michael Lionstar.

A Q&A with incoming Executive Director, Karen Tisch

The Koffler Centre of the Arts is delighted to announce the appointment of Karen Tisch to the position of Executive Director. She succeeds Cathy Jonasson, who is stepping down after an exceptional six-year tenure at the Koffler.

Ms. Tisch is a veteran arts manager, programmer, and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the Canadian arts sector, including executive positions at the Ashkenaz Foundation, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Images Festival, and Toronto Arts Council. Ms. Tisch begins her new role at the Koffler on March 4, 2019.

Read the Press Release announcing the appointment of Karen Tisch, incoming Executive Director of the Koffler Centre of the Arts.


How did the arts first enter your life?
The arts have always been an integral part of my life. My father is an architect and exposed me to visual arts from a very young age. My mother was a folk dancer in her youth and my grandmother an accomplished pianist, and both passed on their love of performing arts. I also cannot remember a day in my chil­­dhood when my head was not buried in a book. By 10, I was training full-time to be a dancer.

You’re an alumna of the National Ballet School and OCAD. Can you briefly describe the path that led you to arts management and programming?
After an injury curtailed my dance ambitions, my path was a winding one but ultimately I realized I was less of an artist and more of an arts advocate and facilitator. While still a student at OCAD, I became actively involved in the local independent film and video and artist-run centre movement and ultimately became the Programming Director of the Images Festival and the Board President of A Space Gallery. That was my first immersion into the world of arts programming and management – and I was hooked!

What is it about the Koffler’s mandate that excites you?
Everything! The focus on highlighting diverse voices and cultural expressions through a social justice lens; the concept of engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds in a vibrant dialogue about the most vital issues of our times; the multi-disciplinary and community-centred approach; and the idea of positioning Jewish identity in conversation with other cultural perspectives, is all of great interest to me. As a cultural platform, the Koffler integrates many of my chief interests and passions.

You are a passionate bibliophile. Tell us about the last great book you read.
It is impossible to choose one! Two recent favourites, both recommended to me by my filmmaker friend Mike Hoolboom, are Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot and America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Mailhot is a Nlaka’pamux author from the Seabird Island First Nation in British Columbia. Her book is a raw, hypnotic and heartrending memoir that explores issues of mental health, abuse and survival. I think it is a must-read for anyone trying to better understand the effects of intergenerational trauma. It is also a haunting and poetic account of an Indigenous woman’s struggle to reclaim her space. Castillo’s novel is a sprawling saga set in a diasporic Filipino-American community in the San Francisco Bay area. The story is a complex narrative on race, sexuality, migration, family and the intersection of the personal and the political. I loved its lush beauty, scope and ambition. 

Where do you turn for inspiration?
I turn to books, visual art, film and theatre – it is the voices and expressions of artists and writers that stoke my imagination, help me navigate the complexities of our modern world and generally energize and inspire me. I also turn to my 16-year-old daughter and her friends, especially when I am feeling gloomy about current events, because I am very hopeful that the next generation will create a more just, equitable and sustainable planet.

You have done important work with issues of diversity and accessibility in the arts. Do you see progress in how arts organizations are addressing inclusion and equity issues?
I do see progress. In the 1990s, when I first began working in the professional arts scene, issues of equity, access and Indigenous rights were only just entering the common discourse in the mainstream Canadian arts world, despite the successes of various women’s, anti-racism, Indigenous and activist movements in other public spheres. At the time, I was inspired by the work and advocacy of Canadian artists and writers like Richard Fung, Lillian Allen, Dionne Brand, Alanis Obomsawin, b.h. Yael, Jamelie Hassan, Midi Onodera, Jorge Lozano, Robert Houle, Ali Kazimi, Paul Wong and Roy Miki, among others. I became an active player in the movement to create more equitable and accessible arts institutions, funding agencies, festivals and artist-run spaces. There were many explosive battles in those days, with some initial resistance to change. In recent years, I have seen a much wider embrace of concepts of pluralism, as well as significant momentum in the struggle for disability and Indigenous rights. However, I think there is still work to be done. Celebrating diversity has become the norm in the Canadian arts sector but truly sharing power is still a “work-in-progress.”

Name three well-known Torontonians, dead or alive, who you would invite to your ideal dinner party.
I think I it would be fun to go back in time, so I would share a meal with a triumvirate of women activists from Toronto’s past: urban activist Jane Jacobs, anti-slavery advocate Mary Ann Shadd, and prison reform activist Agnes Macphail. (Drake would be welcome to drop by for dessert.)

Who has been your most important mentor?
I have been fortunate to have many mentors in my life. Documentary filmmaker Ali Kazimi, equity in the arts leader Sharon Fernandez, and video artist Richard Fung have probably most influenced my professional interests and work. Personally, I would have to say my parents, the quintessential hard-working immigrant couple who forged a path for me and my brother in Canada.

What do you imagine the next five years might hold for the Koffler?
I predict a very bright future for the Koffler, which is poised to further assert itself as a leading centre for intercultural dialogue through art. I look at the current programming – the first solo show of Toronto-based Persian artist Ghazaleh Avarzamani, and upcoming literary events featuring Indigenous writers Joshua Whitehead and Arielle Twist, and US-based Indian writer Amitava Kumar – and I am filled with excitement. With its growing network of artistic and community collaborators and dynamic, multi-disciplinary programming, my hope is that the Koffler will increasingly be recognized as a key artistic and community hub, an incubator for innovative ideas, and a vibrant platform for cross-cultural dialogue. I am excited to collaborate with the Koffler team to more fully weave the organization into the cultural and social fabric of the City and to expand its reputation as a welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to discover great art.

Our Stories: A Living Library Project

In the spring of 2017, the Koffler partnered with Toronto’s Hearts & Minds Living Library Collective to create it’s third collaborative educational program, Our Stories: A Living Library Project. Grade 5 and 6 students from Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School and Rose Avenue Public School engaged with themes of diversity and cultural identity, as human ‘books’ and ‘readers’ of one another’s stories.

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