Show of Force

Two other artists stand out in the show at the Centre. For her installation Black & Green, Liliane Karnouk, an environmental artist from Cairo who now lives in Vancouver, has included paintings on wooden panels arranged in the shape of a cross, a live plant, and a photomontage that shows the artist in an outdoor performance wrapped in the bark of a birch tree. Of historical importance is the work of the Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine, who first showed her illustrations of birds and female figures in Paris as a teenager. Andre Breton pronounced her a child prodigy, and Picasso, according to the catalogue, "observed her as she kneaded clay into animal forms" (and perhaps copped ideas for his own Women of Algiers).

Outside of these works, the Centre Gallery exhibition loses thematic focus. There are folkloric renditions of picturesque village scenes, various abstract works -- most notably Oumaya Alieh Soubra's Espace lumiäre, painted on Japanese rice paper -- and landscapes depicting Islamic architecture.

The smaller show in the InterAmerican Gallery seems like an entirely separate exhibition A a more cohesive one, too. Most of these works feature language, from intricate calligraphy in gold leaf to urban graffiti. One wall of the gallery features Palestinian artist Laila al-Shawa's Wall of Gaza, a large series of arresting works on which graffiti has been superimposed on images of bombed-out streets, and, in one case, a wide-eyed little boy. Several beautiful handmade books also can be seen, but other works, such as a green ceramic plaque and a small square of silk batik, hold little innate interest.

Overall "Forces of Change" offers much to see, but it suffers from a problem common to many surveys that highlight the art of a particular nation or region: It fails in its effort to make the work of varied artists fit a preconceived idea.

Artyfacts
I want to clarify a statement I wrote recently about art collector Rosa de la Cruz ("Collective Experience," January 26). As de la Cruz was quick to point out to me, while she frequently visits artists' studios, with few exceptions -- like when the artist is unrepresented -- she buys works through their galleries. Any misleading impression I may have given about Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz's business dealings with galleries was unintentional.

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