Intimacy in art: An Art Gallery of Alberta walkthrough

by | Nov 24, 2022 | Arts & Life

Art is a piece of creative activity that projects aesthetic qualities. We can easily imagine paintings with intricate brush strokes or rhyming literary works. However, to define art the same way disregards its potential to be an individualistic experience. For me, art is best recognized by subjectively perceiving it. 

There isn’t one way to perceive art. The Eden Gallery phrases it as a judgment “based on personal opinions, experiences, beliefs, and feelings rather than on agreed and established facts.” Therefore, it’s unique to each individual.

When I experience artwork, I feel intimate with the artist, even without their physical presence. In Ellen Dissanayake’s Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began, she describes intimacy beyond romantic and sexual love. Instead, it’s a sense of mutuality where something familiar is shared.

The best way to illustrate my experience with intimacy in art is through my visit to the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA). This gallery in Edmonton features Western Canada’s visual arts.

During my visit on Nov. 10, I attended four exhibitions:

  • Conjured Images: Spirit Photography from the turn of the 20th Century
  • Riaz Mehmood: Ghazal—Songs for Home
  • Road Trip
  • Scents of Movement, Scents of Place
Conjured Images

Conjured Images focused on vintage photographs that claim to have captured apparitions. Most of these photos were from the 20th century, when the spiritualist movement was popularized.

Through the photographs, I realized that spirituality takes different forms. In some images, the photographer’s deceased loved ones appear as they are, while others didn’t contain a human figure. 

I felt like I was experiencing their grief, as if I was also missing the ghostly figure that was the artist’s late family member. Despite how horrific it sounds to capture a photograph of a ghost, maybe these photos were once comforting to those who needed it most.

Riaz Mehmood: Ghazal—Songs for Home

Riaz Mehmood used different mediums as an homage to his homeland in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. He celebrates Pashtun culture and identity through poetry, watercolour, sound, film and photography.

Out of the four exhibitions, I associated myself with this the most – it felt like a cry of homesickness. As an international student from the Philippines, I’m far away from home. I don’t get the opportunity to participate in my culture as much as when I lived in my country.

Road Trip

Road Trip was reminiscent of what it’s like to be on a road trip. Each artist has a depiction of their experience. Film and photography represent realistic takes, while abstract paintings make road trips surreal.

In the middle of this exhibit was Kim Adams’ Dodes ‘Ka-den (Moonshine Runner), an installation of a customized truck. On its body, funnels jut out to present a miniature world hidden within.

Kim Adams’ Dodes ‘Ka-den (Moonshine Runner)
Kim Adams’ Dodes ‘Ka-den (Moonshine Runner) Photo by Jannah Corinne Jumamil

It was endearing to see that each display was on its way to wherever its destination was. It captured its journey, even if its destination was itself, just like the Moonshine Runner.

Scents of Movement, Scents of Place

I found the most intimacy in the Scents of Movement, Scents of Place exhibition. The art was in the scents, representing places and times I’ve never been. It’s looking at an artwork and experiencing it through smell.

Sans façon’s Jasmine from Grasse
Sans façon’s Jasmine from Grasse

Sans façon’s Jasmine from Grasse was the perfect installation to end my visit at AGA.

The installation replicated scents from the memories of six individuals that worked at the Atlantic Avenue Art Block in Calgary. There were no photographs of the people involved, just their names and the location and time of their memories. Each of these scents was enclosed in a glass cover.

Sniffing these scents meant reliving the memories of strangers. It felt intrusive yet intimate, knowing just their scents and names. I’ll never know whatever happened beyond smell in those moments of their life..

The exciting part of art subjectivity is how each individual has their own interpretation. We may see the same artwork, but our perceptions will always be different. It keeps the conversation going: this is my part. 

If you want to challenge yourself to be subjective towards art, visiting the Art Gallery of Alberta would be a great first step. Plus, Alberta students get free admission by showing their student ID. For more information on gallery hours, exhibitions and events, visit

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