In My Own Backyard
Mary Abma's exhibit mixes art, history and science
4 min. read
October 27, 2011

Throughout the week of September 20, the walls of Redeemer’s art gallery came to life with a collection entitled “In My Own Backyard,” by artist Mary Abma. Although the variety of colours and mediums intertwined in this collection provide the most observable layer of Abma’s work, the appeal of this multi-faceted exhibit extends far beyond the visual. Yet, as Abma explains, this element is her tool to bring important issues to the foreground,“My artistic practice is not one in which art is created for ‘art’s sake’ alone. I am most content when I am exploring important issues or ideas and when I attempt to express them visually. This” she says,“can encourage people to become engaged with the world around them and to take an interest in and ask questions inspired by the works that they are viewing.” Through an intermingling of art, history, and science, Abma’s work alludes to her own heritage and personal experience, but also tells the story of a people- a narrative of French settlers to the young country that would later become Canada. How did they live? What was their world like? What motivated them? Some of that world has been carried into the twenty first century, through the plants that grow from the earth. Some of the vegetation was native to France, brought by the settlers and grown on Canadian soil. Some already had a home in Canadian soil. Regardless, many of these species have stood the test of time, and that is how Abma has connected two worlds. In many ways she has immortalized pieces of a world that is fading, as the vegetation that characterized its setting faces extinction. Spanning across most of one side of Redeemer’s art gallery is Mary Abma’s “Cultivation and Conquest” shadowboxes. Each shadowbox houses a different antique cultivation blade, covered in excerpts from French colonizers-some in French, others in English. Within the other side of the shadowbox is a “lumen” print of a native plant species that has become endangered due to the presence of species that are “foreign” to the land. Through this combination of the writings of the colonists with the tools they used,Abma attempts to parallel the attitudes of the colonizers in terms of cultivation of the land with the conquest of the native people of the land, through the common theme of subjugation. The result is the twelve shadowboxes, “vignettes of silent witness.” The lumen prints are also showcased independently, in a series of nine prints on the opposite wall of the gallery. Lumen is the oldest type of photography, but it is done without a camera. The artist explains the creation of them as “painting with light.” This is because of the sun’s role in creating the print. An object is placed on photosensitive paper, and through exposure to the sunlight, the image is imprinted. The plants chosen by Abma to create these works are ones that at one time would have been native to her hometown. These she added to her own garden as a branch of her artwork. The largest component of Abma’s series has nestled perfectly onto an entire wall of Redeemer’s gallery. Entitled “Herbarium of Lot 122,” this stimulating collection was harvested over the course of the 2009 growing season. Abma collected various plant species that had made a home in her backyard of Brights Grove Ontario. She then undertook the challenging process of identification, with the aid of several botanists. This would later comprise her collection of eighty two plant species, which were sprayed metallic silver and mounted onto painted masonite panels with beeswax. Along with a harmonious array of colour, the panels also contain writings, drawings, the uses of the plants, recipes and poems. Although these writings and symbols are not immediately or clearly visible to the viewer, they continue the story that ties them to the people that introduced them toCanadian soil. And although the panels are all displayed together as a whole, each has a unique story in both the past and present. As her work connects the history to the present time, Abma explains how it is neither a static or completed job, “My whole notion of what constitutes a beautiful garden has changed. I also recognize my own responsibility when it comes to ecosystem degradation. I will not close the book on this project. Already we are in the process of redeeming our own little patch of creation…” Her work is also a bridge between the disciplines. It displays the importance of the sanctity of the earth and place of humankind within it. Ultimately Abma has shown that an awareness of the simplicity of the earth beneath our feet can lead the mind to both contemplation of universal human experiences throughout the span of history, but also to contemplation of the highest truth that is God.

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