I always wondered, why do plants die? As a child I felt responsible every time a plant died on my grandmother’s balcony. One day, I was sad to observe another plant dying or on its path to rebirth, and I asked my grandmother: What should I do to keep this plant alive? She said: “sing to it and it will flourish, plants have ears, they can feel our presence and communicate with us. Talk to the plant.” She continued, “make your words and songs come from the heart, plants survive on love.”

“Rise like Nefertum from the lotus, to the nostrils of Ra, and come forth upon the horizon each day”

As we move away from the sun explores topics of migration, displacement, and adaptation with a focus on the inextricable connections between human and plant migration. We invite the audience to engage with questions of how people can come to resemble plants while adapting to a new country and culture, and how the shift of one’s identity can be affected by the rigid integration processes inherited from western colonial systems.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, Nefertum represented the sunrise and was associated with the Sacred Blue Lily of the Nile (Blue Lotus). The Blue Lilly emerges from the water and blooms only when the sun rises before returning to the water for rebirth. This short life span of the Blue Lily was a representation of life and death, a cycle that ancient Egyptians believed is the ethos of being. This strong connection between the sun, the human body, the land, the water, and plants represent a full cycle in which all these elements are perceived as one inseparable being.

From these mythologies emerges a deep connection with the sun that runs through my ancestral lineages. The sun I grew up under in Egypt is the source of life, the reason why my ancestors thrived. The sun defined their relationship with the land, if not the entire universe.

For me, the process of immigration was moving away from this sun that my ancestors worshiped. If planet earth detaches from the sun, we all will simply freeze. I moved away from the sun that I knew by heart and the sun where I live now is different. I am in the process of embracing this new sun. For many years, I pictured myself as a plant extending its roots and branches to reach home.

My body became the vessel in which I hold home as well as the agony caused by living on an unceded land known as Canada. Being away from my home is simply being away from the sun. My ancestors’ life and death cycle was interrupted and to regain my balance I have to connect with the land I currently live on. Peace within the self is attainable, if we pay attention to the land we live on so that it takes care of us and maintains our life cycle as we know it.


As we move away from the sun takes place at Allan Gardens, Toronto’s famous downtown botanical gardens, where many people take refuge either from homelessness, displacement, or everyday life in a fast-paced capitalistic society. The space holds a long history of community support for different causes — from women’s rights to indigenous rights. The space engages with links between human survival, plant life, and the sun. A survival relationship exists between migrant bodies and plants, being in proximity to plants can be healing to many home sicknesses.

I’ve heard many stories about how immigrants connect with this space as it reminds them of home and helps them endure the severity of the cold in Toronto. Not only the cold of the weather, but the coldness and isolation that the immigration process imposes on migrant bodies, especially those from the Global South. It is significant that being in proximity to plants holds a space of refuge and healing; however, migrant bodies don’t have this luxury while they linger in this capitalist dwelling. The climate that the settler colonial capitalist migrant settlement system is creating for immigrants and refugees in Canada is far disconnected from the land.

Abbas Akhavan, you used to call it blue sometimes, 2022, Dichroic film, sound, Dimensions variable


As we move away from the sun starts with Abbas Akhavan’s installation, you used to call it blue sometimes. Akhavan’s practice is inspired by creating connections with the spaces he visits. Through close and intentional reconnections with space, Akhavan gives us the opportunity to look at our surroundings differently. Instead of labeling these organic connections with our surroundings as “decolonial” or “anticolonial”, the artist focuses on immersing us within a specific time and space. As we allow ourselves to sit in peace with the present, we do not need to worry about naming or labeling things, or fitting in the decolonial discourse that most western institutions entail. In this installation, the artist installs dichromatic film to the windows of the greenhouse. Through the bodily experience of seeing plants under a fluctuating colorful light mastered by the sun over the patient cacti, we realize how isolating our reading and interpretation of history can be. We listen to color-blind people’s reactions as they see color, many for the first time in their lives. This eye-opening experience is accompanied by a soft narrator’s voice and birds chirping, creating a complete sensory experience. Being away from home can be eye opening, we look at things from a different perspective, mainly a diasporic one which doesn’t always have the blessings of connecting to the land.

Patricia Dominguez, Eyes of Plants, 2019, Installation & Artist book, Book dimensions 23.6 x 29.5 (detail)


Patricia Dominguez’s Eyes of Plants takes us into an ancestral healing ritual. Through rooting ourselves into the world of plants and calling onto our ancestors, healing from homesickness becomes tangible. Cacti are famous for their resilience and ability to survive harsh environments, they evolve new features that keep them safe from predators and dehydration. Both humans and plants cannot survive on their own, there is a deeper connection far beyond our conscious awareness. This state of being, swinging in-between the consciousness and unconsciousness, resembles the experience of displacement and migration. Through the severity of this process we are reborn, we are more grounded in our roots, and in our earthly nature.

Asmaa Al-Issa, Untitled (Map to Tanuma), 2023, Mixed media including mulberry paper, starch paste, raspberry and hydrostone, Dimensions variable


Asmaa Al-issa tracks this cycle of rebirth through finding connections between her homeland (Iraq) and Canada. Using the body, memory, rivers and plants, Al-issa interweaves a cycle of being between two different places, lineages, and times. Our bonding with the land is traceable in our own bodies, the artist unites these segments of life and survival between Iraq and Canada.

Following her own hand lines, she traces the flow of Degla and Furat rivers in Iraq as well as the Elbow and Bow rivers in Calgary. Palm trees are another theme in Al-issa’s practice. Known for their generosity, palm trees became a symbol of strength and motherhood. In this realm where human bodies and plants become reflective of each other, our presence as migrants on unceded indigenous lands has a purpose; to protect and care for the land, to cultivate generosity and strength together.

Tania Willard, Sovereign-tea, 2022, Ceramic vessel, Dimensions variable


From this stance of generosity and care we move to Tania Willard’s Sovereign Tea, she invites us to experience time differently and be in direct connection with the land in an anticapitalist approach. To wander around, plant, harvest and make our own food has become a luxury most of us living in big cities and under the wheel of capitalism cannot afford.

In Layla Feghali’s book The Land in our Bones, she shares advice from her herbalist mentor in the Cedar forests of Lebanon: in order to connect with the land you live on, you need to eat what grows locally. Willard’s site-specific herbal tea (made from Cedar grown onsite at Allan Gardens) draws a metaphor and offers a healing ritual to those migrant bodies yearning to connect with the land. The connection with land is integral in Indigenous practices, through which we experience care, nourish our bodies and souls away from the intensity of the city’s continuous consumption of resources.

Dima Srouji, A Recipe for Happiness, 2020, Multimedia installation (aluminum prints), Dimensions variable


Another connection with the land, healing, and slowness of time appears in Dima Srouji’s A Recipe for Happiness. Colonialism as well as Capitalism instilled the notion of cleanliness and sanitation in dismissing all the “barbaric habits’’ that any local community in the Middle East had followed prior to modernism. We tend to forget that all our modern medicine is usually extracted from plants, while the same plants used in indigenous or traditional ceremonies were pictured as undesirable by colonial systems. Looking closely at the Saponaria officinalis (soapwort) plant, the artist captures the rituals in which plants, birth, death, femininity, healing, and cleansing all overlap to induce happiness within the self. The happiness which Mark Twain’s trip to Jerusalem failed to capture, as any colonial power fails to perceive the ethos of this connection to land.

Lamis Haggag, A study of a transitory plant, polymer clay and wire sculptural objects, 2021/22, Variable dimensions


At the very core of transition from one shape to another, from one country to the other, Lamis Haggag takes us on a journey with her project on migration, grief, plant transformation and lamentation as a way of healing.

Haggag’s long research on Monotropa and Jasmine concludes her own experience with the migration process in Canada. The first time she spotted a Jasmine tree was at Allan Gardens, however, the existing jasmine tree currently in Allan Gardens is not the same jasmine tree that Egypt is famous for.

In the Flora Monotropa (Ghost Plant), Lamis finds what could be an alternative to the jasmines that grow and flourish in Egypt only to be exported to Europe. The Monotropa is used in eye medication, and Lamis draws similarities from this plant to the guarding eye of Horus as she delves into Egyptian mythology in an attempt to overcome the heartbreak that migration causes. In looking closely at plants, interweaving facts with mythology, Lamis brings back a diminishing old grieving ritual “A’deed” “عديد” in which women chant for the deceased and draw metaphors between the deceased and plants, describing their youth as a flower or their generosity and care as a palm tree.

Allowing space and time for grief is intricate in Egyptian traditions, bringing these traditions into Allan Gardens creates a full cycle of being, birth and death, and rebirth.

As we move away from the sun, stories become seeds lingering in time awaiting their harvest.

Fatma Hendawy
Open Call Exhibition
© apexart 2024

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