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‘Shadows Without Borders’ sheds light on refugee-camp stories for summer show at Surrey gallery

Art duo helps open their exhibit Sunday afternoon at Surrey Art Gallery
Mere Phantoms’ “Shadows Without Borders” in Athens, 2018. The interactive installation is featured at Surrey Art Gallery this summer, starting June 18. (Submitted photo)

Surrey Art Gallery’s summer show is all about playing with shadows and light.

An interactive installation, “Shadows Without Borders,” was created by Montreal-based artists Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson in 2018, and now sets up for a two-month exhibition at the Bear Creek Park gallery, starting Friday, June 18.

With their Mere Phantoms partnership, Ersan and Robson use shadow play to explore the relationship between memory and architecture, people and place.

A few years ago, their mobile interactive shadow installation travelled to refugee camps, squats and settlements in Athens and Istanbul. The duo led paper-cutting and shadow workshops and play sessions with children and families in those cities.

“The initial idea came from the outbreak of the Syrian civil war,” Ersan explained. “Having grown up in Turkey and Cyprus, I was very familiar with the aftermath of such events. Jaimie and I wanted to do something that could make a difference in our own small way with our unique tool set, which was to bring shadow play to vulnerable and displaced families.”

At Surrey Art Gallery, some of the work created in Greece and Turkey is included in the exhibition, along with a shadow-projection tent and custom-made flashlights.

Also featured is a series of photographs from a night of shadow play at an Athens squat, as well as a seven-minute video documenting the workshops and sessions in Athens and Istanbul, in collaboration with filmmakers Leila Shifteh and Harun Yasin Tuna. New paper-cut tableaus that will be exhibited for the first time at Surrey Art Gallery, where “Shadows Without Borders” continues until Aug. 14.

The two Mere Phantoms artists will give a talk about their work Sunday, June 19 at 2 p.m. Admission is free but registration is required at


RELATED: ‘Skytrain Girl’ and more in 38th ‘ARTS’ show at Surrey Art Gallery this spring/summer.

Shadows Without Borders by Mere Phantoms from mere phantoms on Vimeo.

During the summer run of the exhibit, visitors are invited to engage with the artwork. People can add their own cut-outs to this ever-growing interactive installation and pick up a flashlight to animate the paper tableaus.

“This project is humble in its ambitions,” the artists state. “It does not endeavour to document or record or even solicit personal stories. Instead, it offers a creative play space in which humour, sadness, joy, and creativity can be expressed. It offers a momentary pause from daily life in a temporary home. Ultimately this piece is about play. Participants are invited to pick up a shadow lamp, make a paper cutout, and immerse themselves in this ephemeral world of shadow and light.”

The exhibit is brought to Surrey Art Gallery by curator Jordan Strom.

“I hope that it leads many visitors to consider their own family stories of migration and or displacement, while at the same, opening space for them to consider the experiences of others that have been forcibly expelled and moved from their homelands in recent years,” Strom said in a news release.

“Shadows Without Borders” is among 200 “exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program,” the release notes. “With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.”

Sunday’s opening reception celebrates Surrey Art Gallery’s concurrent exhibits including “ARTS 2022,” an annual juried exhibition of local art organized with Arts Council of Surrey. Also featured are “Atheana Picha: Echoes” (a window mural that celebrates the cultural importance of Coast Salish mountain goat horn bracelets) and “Charles Campbell: Black Breath Archive” (an audiovisual exhibition that cultivates intergenerational exchanges and solidarities within Black communities).

Following the artist talk by Mere Phantoms, local artists Jim Adams, Roxanne Charles and Cora Li-Leger will pay tribute to Liane Davison, recently retired as City of Surrey’s Culture Manager and former Surrey Art Gallery curator and director, and there will also be a book launch for TechLab: Experiments in Media Art 1999–2019.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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