By Makayla Gay
Amanda Boulos is no modernist. The Toronto-based artist balks at the white-on-white pieces that line modern galleries and has exploded onto the scene with brooding abstract narrative pieces dripping in sultry hues and surrealism.
Boulos’ narratively dense pieces have been described by the judges of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition as being “brave, nuanced and powerful.”
Her work reflects the instability of historical and political narratives in which she draws from for her pieces. She says, “I am able to take their incomplete parts and construct a space for myself.”
“The narratives I have inherited are very fragmented. They each come in the form of a single sentence or a blurred or incomplete memory.”
Many of the oral narratives aren’t accompanied by a solitary image, so Boulos can take the liberty of filling in the gaps with her imagination while still letting these fragments transform in their own right
“I wanted to retell these stories, but I did not want to piece them together or make them coherent. Instead, I wanted to preserve their fragmented nature and explore how I could transform them or see where these stories naturally would fall.”
Breaking away from traditional cultural expectations is constantly on the Lebanese-Palestinian artists mind. The Mae figures in her paintings and videos are gentle, supple, and vulnerable which goes against the stereotypical depiction of Arab.
Growing up in a predominantly Arab community of Mississauga, in greater Toronto, Boulos was surrounded by family just a few apartment buildings away and neighbors from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and other Arab countries. Boulos stops short of claiming to be influenced by her Lebanese-Palestinian background but rather, considers it as an integral art of her work.
“Even if I lived and grew up here in Canada, there is no part of me that I separate from my family and my Palestinians identify. Every decisions I make, every relationship I form and every action I take is coming from a Palestinian woman.”
The art world is taking a step towards more inclusivity in all senses in the narratives that are told, which Boulus finds a boon.
Boulos observes that galleries and opening nights are filled with family members of the artists, from cousins to grandmothers, that are proud of their artist relatives. She finds it refreshing to see these close knit communities meshing in a public art gallery. “The more inclusive the art community gets, the more sharing and caring takes place in the spaces, which is what the art world desperately needs and should be striving for.”
With inclusion of new narratives finally taking the stage in the art world, Boulos feels that artists should also be seeking different methods and mediums for exploration and communication. Aside from painting, Boulos incorporates
found family footage into video pieces to create an alternative narrative of her family’s history, a method she wishes she had more time for.
Although her paintings are rich in metaphor and steeped in symbolism, Boulos sometimes yearns for a more direct dialogue with the audience.
“My videos are always a little more on the nose than my paintings. When I use found footage, the viewer can’t avoid recognizing a politicized landscape or body. As a result, the videos tend to be more easily interpreted, which I appreciate at times.”
Still, she finds comfort in the ingenuity and ambiguity of her memories explored through painting.
“The painting process really allows all of the secrets to spill out, all my true feelings to show, and I constantly discover startling new things about the narratives as I work.”
Sometimes, a story works better as a memory, and it isn’t until the culmination of memories that Boulos feels one can truly read the story. “When all the paintings sit together on a wall, that is when you can really read the story. You can pick and choose what you want to listen to and what you
just want to feel. You really start to understand the power of nonverbal communication.”
In the wake of her $25,000 prize from the RBC Painting Competition, next on the horizon for Amanda Boulos is a residency at the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity as another part of her prize. Boulos looks forward to unplugging from her busy life in Toronto to focus on the next direction of her practice.
“I plan on doing a lot of reflecting, minimal talking and a lot of making. I can’t wait.”