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Habiba El-Sayed creates both a doorway and a barrier at the gates of the Public Gardens.

Exhibit 105, Public Gardens, 5665 Spring Garden Road

click to enlarge pushback.jpg

The wrought-iron gates of Halifax's Public Gardens are an icon in the city's landscape, but for Nocturne anchor artist Habiba El-Sayed, they also stand as a fruitful metaphor for decolonization.

Throughout the night, El-Sayed will push hundreds of pounds of clay back and forth through the wrought-iron gates of the gardens—the clay sometimes molding to the shape of the space between the bars, before falling in a wet heap to the ground.

For El-Sayed, the gates can be understood as a duality of suppression and openness: Both a doorway and a barrier, they are designed to close off the gardens at the end of the evening and the season, but their façade creates the illusion of openness, with views accessible through to the gardens. El-Sayed sees the gates as an illustration of the barriers she faces as a Muslim woman of colour living in Canada—the judgments and assumptions people make about her before she even has a chance to speak can be extremely limiting, making moving forward sometimes like pushing clay through wrought-iron gates—not impossible, but difficult and labourious.

El-Sayed hopes Pushback will open up dialogues with spectators concerning the barriers and discrimination faced by Muslims and people of colour, that some gates are not always easily opened. But rather than providing this educational dialogue as free labour, she invites spectators to assist her in her work, asking them to help push the clay through the bars of the gate and to share the work of decolonization.

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