Seasonal Coffee Artist Series: Summer with Ahlena Sultana-McGarry
Ahlena is a Pakistani-Canadian cross-disciplinary artist who visually explores diaspora and her own multiracial identity. Working digitally she creates fragmented and organically abstract collages using family archival photographs of her homeland, fabrics, colours, and images of her mother. Through this she seeks to create a visual space occupied by a culturally crossed identity, moving to embody her own racial disembodiment. Her work pursues representation, remembering, and a reclaiming of her multi-ethnic bodily experience.
Her piece, The Sun Pours Down in Pakistan is featured on the Summer Seasonal blend of Equator Coffee.
Ahlena splits her time between her family home in Almonte and her studio in Toronto, but Ahlena would describe her lifestyle as transient.
“A lot of my childhood was spent in Pakistan, which in my work, half my identity is there and half it's around here somewhere. My art is essentially based in all the questions that I have about where my identity sits, and what that space looks like, and where I've come to be through these experiences of movement and being multiracial as well.”
How has your career as an artist developed over time - have you always been a digital-first artist?
“I really did start traditional, I think most people started with that. I was interested in painting, and a mixture of different mediums to be able to find where I am now. But I started with acrylic, and then eventually got into oil. But I found that with digital media, and this was when I was going to university and studying art and design, I found that it was such a unique space. And that allowed me to sort of synthesize the different mediums that I was working with previously, and was able to take fragments of them and still have them represented in something that's completely digital and completely almost untouchable in a way.”
Where do you look for inspiration?
“I always look internally for inspiration. I think that my interest is rooted in storytelling and in my own history and life experiences. But nature plays a large part in that. It always has. [In my work] you'll see a lot of the colors and the forms are speaking to my lived experiences, but then how organic those shapes are, emanates the sense of nature and the sense of environment.”
Describe the perfect summer day.
“It’s lovely. The perfect summer day would be that balance of midday, where you have the blazing heat and the water. For me is always going to come back to that balance between simmering sun and that dazzling light across the water. For the perfect day would be spending time near a body of water on a sunny day smelling citrus.”
The way you're describing that your perfect summer day actually sounds a lot like the piece of art that was chosen for the label. It's like such a vibrant red and it feels like heat. But then there's like this lovely movement in it that could represent water.
A bit about the The Sun Pours Down in Pakistan
“[In this piece] I'm trying to embody identity and belonging. A lot of the imagery and the shapes come from archival photos of my family and times where I've experienced movement. A lot of the works that I create, I try to create a space that's reminiscent of what it feels like to embody a multiracial identity, as that includes culture and heritage. And there's, there's a great sense of nostalgia in my work in that I'm speaking to a lot of memories, which are fragmented and blurry and in some cases completely erased. So space is what I'm trying to talk about in these works. And what spaces are still here and what have disappeared in the process of moving in diaspora.”
To follow along with Ahlena and her work, you can find her on Instagram, her website and on Partial Gallery, an art marketplace and platform for artists and art-seekers to connect and engage in real and accessible transactions.
The Seasonal Coffee Artist Series invites local talent to be featured on bags of Equator Coffee. Changing with every season, each limited edition coffee blend label will feature the season-related art of one artist or designer selected by Equator from the diverse communities connected to our coffee. Inquiries regarding submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org