Interview: Curator Maela Ohana on Her Female-Operated Art Gallery, Archive Contemporary

Archive Contemporary opened its doors on June 21st, an intimate but modern art space located in Montreal’s Pointe St Charles neighborhood.

The gallery’s first exhibition “The Awakening” explore the uncanny world of magical realism in the photographic and visual arts, featuring emerging and mid-career names such as Synchrodogs, Livewild Collective, Kyle Berger, Beaver Sheppard and Benoit Paillé. Guided by the characteristic vision that defined Archive Collective – Ohana’s online and print art magazine, the works on show are bold and energetic, occasionally veering off into the supernatural.

We had a chat with curator and founder Maela Ohana about curation and women in the art world.

Crédit: Benoit Paillé
Benoit Paillé presents four photographic works in his signature style, using a hotshoe flash to create psychedelic, spontaneous representations of the natural world

Tell us about the first exhibition, “The Awakening.” What was the guiding idea behind the artist and image curation?

MO: I chose to launch the gallery on the day of summer’s solstice, which felt fitting for the birth of a new project and a fresh new chapter for Archive Collective. “The Awakening” was curated in response to a feeling of emergence and wonder – the displayed works are sensorially coherent in their playful mood and energetic qualities. Several of the selected artists identify with the genre of magical realism, be it through seeking out the uncanny in everyday life or by directly manipulating reality to defamiliarize the viewer. I should say this also created a smooth transition from the magazine to the gallery space, as this is the type of aesthetic I have generally gravitated towards and published on Archive Collective.

On that note, how does curation within a gallery context compare to that of a magazine?

MO: I’ve learned to trust in my curatorial instincts through my magazine work, and that same instinct follows through into every choice I make at the gallery. But my main intention with the gallery space was to form a deeper, more tangible sense of community around the creative projects in Pointe St Charles and at Archive Contemporary. So for that reason I’m much more interested in working with local, Montreal-based artists in the gallery space whereas the magazine featured artists from all around the world. I’m particularly interested in connecting with artists who will take their practice beyond the gallery walls and into community centered events and workshops.

Crédit: François Ollivier
Francois presents photographic work centred around the idea of spontaneous manipulations onto the landscape, creating groups, scenes, or setups that will exist only once.

Crédit: Kyle Berger
A photographer with a magical realist view of suburban Canada presents two
photographic pieces that seek out the extraordinary in the mundane.

What are your thoughts on being a female curator/ being a woman in the art world? How does it impact your decisions at the gallery and/or with the magazine?

MO: We can all agree visibility is heavily biased towards male artists, both historically and in present day. Stories that evidence the systemic underrepresentation of women, such as the Nikon’s Top 32 photographers in 2017 being all men, are all too common… although I believe the art world is moving in strides to readjust the scales. What’s important is that curators and industry decision-makers move beyond the trend of presenting women’s art as a ‘theme’ – which puts undue pressure on female artists to address the (often singular, stereotyped) concept of womanhood within their work. If a female artist chooses to do so, that’s great! But it should not be implicitly or explicitly coerced through the types of opportunities presented by galleries and magazines. Inclusion as a female artist shouldn’t require an obligatory engagement with symbols, forms or ideas associated with feminism and the female experience.

As such, my aim is to ensure female representation within all styles and genres of work exhibited at the gallery. Of the nine artists exhibited in the second exhibition, seven are women. They are artists working with video art, painting, sculpture, installation, digital media and digital media, focusing on a variety of different subject matter and aesthetic styles. Only one directly addresses the experience of gender in their work. 

Archive Contemporary gallery, 2471 Centre St
Credit: Live Wild Collective
The French all-girl collective presents a range of mixed media works pushing the boundaries between reality and distortion.

Could you tell us more about the upcoming exhibition, “Abstractions”?

MO: Yes! “Abstractions” was inspired by Hilma AF Klint’s mindblowing exhibition at the Guggenheim museum, “Paintings for the Future,” which rewrote the history of abstract art by naming its founder a woman. It opens on July 19th and features artists working within the visual language of abstraction –  specifically those who hone in on fragments as symbols of larger, more complex systems. The exhibition is also heavily oriented towards themes of futurism, technocentrism, and alienation. For example, one artist converts nostalgic heirlooms into digital form through 3D imaging, and then gives those objects back their three dimensional bodies by morphing them into abstract sculptures. Another uses generative modelling software to automate the forms in her large-scale oil paintings. It feels odd to say so myself, but it will be a very cool show… save the date!

Archive Contemporary gallery, 2471 Centre St

Archive Contemporary is an intimate fine art gallery launching in Montreal’s Pointe St Charles neighborhood, an offshoot of Archive Collective magazine. The gallery space provides a platform for established and emerging artistic talent, promoting visibility through monthly group and solo exhibitions.

Archive Contemporary also hosts events centered around discourse, skill sharing and community building through its artist-led educational programming. Montreal-based artists (and/or artists planning to travel to Montreal) are welcome to submit pitches for creative events to The gallery is also accepting submissions for future exhibitions and collaborative projects.

See more of Archive Collective Magazine and Archive Contemporary: