Main Gallery

Rolla Tahir:
I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing

May 5 – Jun 30, 2023
Reception: May 12, 2023, 7 - 10 pm
Curated by Lesley Loksi Chan

Cover Image: Rolla Tahir. Detail of I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (2023), yarn and 35mm film. Photo by Arturo Jimenez. 

Rolla Tahir: I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing

In Rolla Tahir’s debut solo exhibition, I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing, she departs from her moving-image practice to create a suite of handwoven works made from celluloid and wool, merging her personal connections to filmmaking and the textile techniques of tatreez and Al Sadu.

In this series of weavings, Tahir wraps yarn around sprocket holes of 35mm filmstrips to form colourful geometric patterns with open-ended edges, occasionally leaving a few frames uncovered to reveal glowing windows of still images. The filmstrips are outtakes from Tahir’s independent work Int’maa (2018) as well as older commercial film trailers gleaned from a local theatre’s projection booth, including trailers from the Canadian cult classics I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) directed by Patricia Rozema and Bollywood/Hollywood (2002) directed by Deepa Mehta. While the machine-processed film surfaces are clear and glossy, Tahir’s hand-treated footage is cloudy and distressed from being immersed in oil and bleach, an experimental film technique she learned from Toronto-based filmmaker Eva Kolcze. In every weaving, celluloid forms varying structures beneath varying wool and consequently, film images are hidden or unhidden depending on what Tahir decides we can view. In Tahir’s hands, weaving becomes a form of film editing, drawing our attention to how women’s labour and resourcefulness cuts across cinema, art and craft. 

Tahir’s weaving practice is inspired by childhood memories of her mother’s knitting, sewing and tatreez, an ancient embroidery technique traditionally practiced by Palestinian women and girls. Tatreez brings together specific colours and motifs to create symbols representing different stages of an individual’s life, regional differences and class differences. As a delicate and refined art form, tatreez plays an important role in preserving and passing on Palestinian history and heritage. While honouring the memories of her mother crafting, Tahir notes that the particular techniques she employs for the works in this exhibition are closer to Al Sadu, the Bedouin style which is woven for durability to withstand the nomadic living and desert conditions which shaped her life in Sudan, Kuwait and Egypt, before moving to Canada. Informed by a moving range of memories and geographies, I’ve Heard the Bedouins Singing meditates on the complexities of craft and placehood, preservation and resistance. Through and through, Tahir’s weavings are a process of splicing echoes.


Born in Kuwait to Sudanese parents, Rolla Tahir is a filmmaker and director of photography currently based in Toronto. She’s lensed short, narrative and experimental films, which screened across Canada and internationally, including the UK, the United States and Guatemala. Obsessed with the durability, longevity and spontaneity of the analog film medium, Tahir has worked with Super 8, 16mm and 35mm to explore the analog process and its possibilities. Tahir’s short experimental film “Sira” was selected to screen at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival and she is currently in pre-production for her first feature film, “Jude and the Jinn”.


Lesley Loksi Chan is a multidisciplinary artist and artistic director of Centre[3] for Artistic and Social Practice. Concerned with invisibility, believability and resistibility, her work has been exhibited internationally including at the Images Festival (Toronto), Vancouver International Film Festival, International Festival of Films on Art (Montreal), British Film Institute (London, UK), Museo de Cine Autobiográfico (Vigo, Spain) and Anthology Film Archives (New York). As Centre[3]’s Artistic Director, she oversees exhibitions, residencies and arts-based projects with a focus on collaborative, experimental and anti-oppressive practices in contemporary art.

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