Words by Chris Carriere

On Thursday, June 28, Mississauga’s newest art gallery, the Promenade Gallery (943B Lakeshore Road East), opened its first exhibition. Owner and operator Asma Arshad Mahmood got the ball rolling with a collection of her own works, entitled Treks & Trails: In Memory of Letters Lost.

As the name implies, the collection explores the connection between place, motion and past—specifically, journeys through the Himalaya Mountains in the artist’s native Pakistan, and her adventurous, inspirational father. But these paintings are also concerned with no place whatsoever. Heavily influenced by expressionism, these fluid works seem to give more weight to light than they do to object, allowing the intangible to overwhelm the tangible in much the same way that our memories, which we experience directly, often seem realer than life, which we experience from across the chasm of perception.

Mahmood herself, however, is deeply concerned with place. Promenade Gallery is nestled into a very average Lakeshore strip mall, a door or two down from a Nick’s Shawarma. She’s a long-time community activist who understands the power of culture to infuse a community with fresh energy and joie de vivre. Along with her husband, Arshad, she co-founded the highly-successful Mosaic Festival in 2006. Part of the impetus behind opening Promenade was a desire to revitalize the neighbourhood around the location, just northeast of Lakeshore and Cawthra.

“People have come in just to say ‘thank you,’” Mahmood says. “Artists really have a wonderful energy.”

Not surprisingly, then, Promenade is to be as much community centre as art gallery. With hardwood floors for easy cleanup, Mahmood hopes it will double as workspace for local artists. Out behind the building, she shows me a narrow, sunlit alleyway with a picnic table. They’re in the process of cleaning up the area to serve as place for local kids to get creative with the help of experienced artists.

“Soon after we started cleaning up our space back here, the tenant next door did as well,” Mahmood notes. Big changes often start simply.

Mahmood also plans to host art therapy programs for the homeless and mentally ill. All of this might sound quite idealistic, but the art-activist realizes that Port Credit galleries have not had the smoothest run of late, with several closing down in the past few years.

Asma offers “Ananadi,” a story by Urdu riter Ghulam Abbas (1909–1982), as a sort of parable explaining the fate of the artistic community—ever-invigorating, yet always on the verge of extinction. In the story, a township decides to “clean up its streets” by evicting all of the courtesans, who move to an abandoned locality. Soon after, local businesses realize that it was the presence of the courtesans that was keeping them in business, and one by one they relocate to join them. By the end of the story, the previously desolate locality is bustling and the original township is a ghost town—at which time the booming metropolis again undertakes the decision to “clean up its streets.”

According to Asma, this is the never-ending cycle faced by the arts and culture community—a group of talented artists bring vitality to an area, property values rise, and suddenly artists can no longer afford the rent. It’s an interesting, if not necessarily universal, metaphor; here’s hoping that Promenade Gallery can have its cake and eat it too.

Promenade Gallery is a rental space; contact Asma Arshad Mahmood at 647-286-9596 for rental inquiries or write at [email protected]. Catch Treks & Trails: In Memory of Letters Lost until July 11th.