CONTACT photography festival features work of York choreographer

For Sashar Zarif (MA ’07), York part-time dance faculty and choreographer, the word "contact" has many meanings. One of them is the annual month-long CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, which will feature works by Zarif along with 1,000 local, national and international artists.

Another is the loss of contact that happened when a dear friend – Michelle Kembel – passed away, leaving a connection to photography and dance behind for Zarif to continue its thread. Kembel’s photography is about dance, with Zarif being one of her subjects. Her work, along with Zarif’s, is part of CONTACT’s Perspective exhibit at Arta Gallery, which runs until May 28.

Perspective features the unique perspectives of 13 Canadian photographers. It is billed as images informed by the photographers’ own backgrounds, from captured movement to pastoral stillness and from staged scenarios to unembellished glimpses of real life.

When seen together, these works not only reveal individual approaches to visions, but the scope of the medium itself. Perspective will also include the works of Behzad Adineh, Geoff Fitzgerald, Catherine Guillaume, Jordan Junck, Rinath Maman, Yadi Mazinani, Nigel Noble, Kamelia Pezeshki, Ian Revell, Wayne Salmon and Aaron Tator.

This is Zarif’s first time being part of any exhibit. His works include photos of York dance Professors Holly Small and Susan Cash performing his choreographed piece Anar, part of the Choreographies of Migration show at the Habourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre last year.

Left: One of Sashar Zarif’s photographs from the Perspective exhibit

“Like my dance work, these photos have also been based on my intuition and spontaneity. I had the honour of working with four beautiful souls, scholars, performers, educators and dance artists, and all York faculty members,” says Zarif. “I had the privilege to tell my story through dance, through their wisdom embedded in their souls and seasoned moving bodies. These photos are very dear to me because they are an honest reflection of human connection. Cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary and true.”

Contact, connection and perspective have had other meanings for Zarif as well which have informed his choreographic work and his photography throughout the years. “I have also lived through the war and conflict, living through the Iranian revolution, Iran and Iraq war, torture and imprisonment as a minor, escaping home through the mountains, leaving my family, to Turkey and staying for three years in a refugee camp in Turkey as a young teenager and establishing myself in my new home, Canada,” says Zarif, a 2008 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominee for outstanding performance for his Life is the Feeling of a Migrating Bird.

“All these have been a challenging battle of identity for me. At this point I have come to understand that my identity is not only about the history behind me, nor is it only about the present or the future. It is about a person right here, right now, who lived through a history and is striving/dreaming/hoping/aiming for a better future.”

Right: Sashar Zarif performing. Photo by Dany Tedmori

In addition, the Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre will recreate Anar, originally choreographed as a quartet for York University dance artists Small, Professor Carol Anderson, Cash and Terrill Maguire, with four dancers in Winnipeg later this month. Anar draws from personal experience to consider how a series of migrations and cultural adaptations has transformed into a new way of communication.

An internationally acclaimed Azerbaijani-Iranian artist, Zarif teaches world dance practices, including Middle Eastern, central Asian and North African dance.

CONTACT takes place at more than 220 venues across the Toronto area this month. Founded as a not-for-profit organization 13 years ago, CONTACT is devoted to celebrating and fostering an appreciation of the art and profession of photography. It is billed as the largest photography event in the world, with a diverse audience that has grown to over one million.

Arta Gallery is in Toronto’s Distillery District at 55 Mill St., Suite 102, Bldg. 9. For hours of operation, visit the Arta Gallery Web site or call 416-364-ARTA (2782).

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer