IN THE WORKS is a new online series that offers intimate glimpses into artistic processes and exhibition development. Artists currently immersed in conceptualizing and producing upcoming projects at the Koffler Gallery share insights and ponder critical moments of their work’s progress. They reflect on the internal drives and external factors that generate new directions, perspective shifts and deeper understandings in their ways of thinking and making.

Sameer Farooq


Photo: Yuula Benivolski.

Toronto artist Sameer Farooq is preparing an exhibition at the Koffler Gallery that was delayed by COVID-19 related closures until January 2021. He plans to create a new immersive installation considering the fraught and violent histories of encyclopaedic museum collections, their colonial origins, structures and impulses. The additional time, slowed-down production plans, and unfolding social turmoil are both impacting and honing his vision for the exhibition. For IN THE WORKS, Sameer Farooq shares some of his evolving thoughts and process sketches.


Display case at Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (Courtesy of Sameer Farooq).

“What does it mean to hold something?

To steal something and hold onto it for a couple centuries must make you do strange things. The hands of museum workers anxiously arrange and rearrange objects inside cases, upholding the fabricated narratives of how their collections came to be. The body of the museum must become hard: plexiglass, metal, resin, wood. Display cases are placed in perfect cadence. With an exacting perfection, conservators comb over objects with small brushes and steam, trying to make them like new. In the basement, lights blink haphazardly, controlling the humidity and security of the floors above. The guards watch, the cameras watch. To hold something for so long requires continuous resuscitation.” – Sameer Farooq




Sameer Farooq, Repatriation Series, work in progress, 2020 (Courtesy of the artist). 

"How do you remove an object?
From inside of a case,
From the polite hands of museum workers,
From the manufactured tales of why something from there is suddenly here
What would museums look like if everything was returned?
The sun bleached the backdrop where the objects once sat; gentle curves of dust; lights point toward artifacts that are no longer there. The imprints of an imperial logic: symmetry, small to large, like next to like, ordered on an invisible grid, scientific, rarely whimsical. Only the things too large were placed on the floor, leaving a few scratches behind. This is all that is left: cases, benches, labels, catalogues, shadows, stains, scuffs, ghosts, etc.” – Sameer Farooq




Sameer Farooq, Repatriation Series, work in progress, 2020 (Courtesy of the artist).

“What purpose can the emptied museum serve?

If all objects are repatriated and everything is gone, perhaps it becomes possible to transform museums from theatres of imperial violence to contemplative spaces for repairing, sensing, and exploring pre-colonial ways of understanding and organizing the world. If we sit long enough, our visions can fill the empty crevices and our experiences may pool into the cavities left behind. Can we imagine a form of repatriation that still enables remembering and holding accountable, so that, as Glen Coulthard reminds us, we do not consign “the abuses of settler colonization to the dustbins of history"? (inspired by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay @aayshaaz)." – Sameer Farooq 


Sameer Farooq is a Canadian artist of Pakistani and Ugandan Indian descent. He has held exhibitions at institutions around the world including the Lilley Museum, Nevada (2019); Vicki Myhren Gallery, Denver (2018); Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (2017); Institute of Islamic Culture, Paris (2017); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2016); The British Library, London (2015); Maquis Projects, Turkey (2015); Sol Koffler Gallery, Rhode Island (2015); Trankat, Morocco (2014); Artellewa, Cairo (2014); Art Gallery of Ontario (2011); and Sanat Limani, Turkey (2010). Farooq holds an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI), a BFA from Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam, NL) and a BA from McGill University (Montreal, QC). He is a recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts; Ontario Arts Council; Toronto Arts Council; the Europe Media Fund; as well the President’s Scholarship at the Rhode Island School of Design. Reviews and essays dedicated to his work have been published by Canadian Art; The Washington Post; BBC Culture; Hyperallergic; Artnet; The Huffington Post; and C Magazine among others. Farooq was longlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2018, Canada’s preeminent art award.

Learn more about Sameer Farooq’s work and upcoming Koffler Gallery exhibition.


Sameer Farooq: A Heap of Random Sweepings is generously supported by TD The Ready Commitment and artist funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council