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Show featuring newcomers highlights diversity of Victoria artists

Artists from 10 countries in Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Victorians are being introduced to new approaches to art by newcomers to the city.

It was Fenghua Cui’s first in-person exhibit on Saturday since she moved to Victoria five years ago.

The former Beijing-based abstract expressionist artist — who previously catered to wealthy corporate clients and once served as an artist-in-residence for a major hotel chain for three years — was pleasantly surprised at the small but bustling premiere of You Are Welcome at the Pat Martin Bates Gallery in downtown Victoria.

Cui came dressed up ready for the red carpet, while most in attendance were wearing comfy sweaters and winter-ready clothing.

“Victoria’s art scene is a bit humbler,” Cui said in Mandarin. “In Beijing, everyone throws money around.”

Cui was one of 10 local artists with international roots featured in the latest art show put on by the Victoria Arts Council.

Kegan McFadden, the show’s co-curator and executive director of the Victoria Arts Council, said the idea for the show came to him when the city began seeing an influx of Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Instead of a narrow focus, the Victoria Arts Council decided to open the doors for all newcomer artists in the capital region.

Partnering with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, the arts organization eventually narrowed down to a selection of artists hailing from 10 countries in Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Maryam, a recent master of fine arts graduate at the University of Victoria who asked her last name be withheld due to security concerns, spent Friday setting up in the gallery space.

Her work, Veiled, featured a looping video of people running away from police amid a protest crackdown in Iran, hidden beneath a facade of hair and metal.

It’s one of Maryam’s more recent works that refer to then-widespread protests in Iran that began when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in police custody after being arrested for allegedly not properly wearing her hijab in Tehran.

“I’m still very impressed,” she said of the protests in Iran, where most of her friends and family reside. “The metal represents the strength and power of the women in my country when they were killed and shot in the streets.”

Maryam said she made the artwork as a way to process her emotions of what was happening while she was studying in Victoria. “I really had to get what was going on in me — out.”

Şansal Güngör Gümüşpala, who came to Victoria from Antalya, Türkiye three years ago, was presenting three works of embroidered art that drew on the tradition of coffee reading.

A common practice in their family, coffee reading is done by interpreting leftover grounds from a cup of Turkish coffee.

“In the old times, you would put gold [on the cup]. Nowadays, you just put a coin, and when it cools, you open it up,” said Gümüşpala. “For me, it’s more than just fortune telling. It’s about bonding, knowing more about the person your talking with.”

Some of Gümüşpala’s inspiration is from Canada, too. Weaved within the works are depictions of Yellowknife’s northern lights.

You are Welcome will run at the Victoria Arts Council’s Pat Martin Bates Gallery at 1800 Store Street until March 3.

The show is sponsored by the Victoria Foundation’s Andrew Beckerman Fund, along with support from the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, the B.C. Arts Council, the Capital Regional District Arts Commission, and the provincial government.

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