For many years, renowned Vancouver artist Stan Douglas ran his studio out of a capacious third-floor unit at 732 Richards Street. The space had character, one memorable feature being the large skylight in its southeast corner, which, alongside the row of high west-facing windows, flooded the studio with natural light. In the mid-2000s, however, the building was marked for teardown; and thus Douglas relocated his work.
Over a decade later, the building has not been demolished, though it overlooks numerous construction projects as the stretch between Robson and West Georgia undergoes an ultramodern transformation. The old skylight has since been covered; and yet, the third-floor suite serendipitously remains a fecund site for contemporary art. A young curator took over the space shortly after Douglas’s departure: Pantea Haghighi was only 28 when she decided, boldly, to open Republic Gallery. Now celebrating its 10th year, Republic is a commercial gallery representing a roster of artists with an impressive breadth of careers, whose works in visual art, photography, and sculpture garner widespread acclaim and have been featured in numerous exhibitions at institutions across Canada and abroad. “I have no idea where the name ‘Republic’ came from,” Haghighi muses, as she steeps a signature blend of tea—Earl Grey for aroma, Darjeeling for colour—in a pristine glass kettle, sitting it elegantly over a candle to keep it hot.
After achieving a degree in art history at the University of British Columbia, Haghighi undertook interdisciplinary graduate-level research at her alma mater, with a focus on modernism and architecture. Numerous ideas nascent in her studies have informed the Utopias Constructed series of exhibitions at Republic. Though rooted in years of contemplation, the first instalment of Utopias Constructed opened in 2014, with guest artists Abbas Akhavan and Kota Ezawa joining Republic’s Antonia Hirsch and Yedda Morrison in probing humanity’s structuring of nature. Last year saw the second Utopias Constructed, featuring vivid sketches by iconic architect Hossein Amanat alongside the works of renowned photographer Jim Breukelman and multidisciplinary artist Holly Ward. “We’ve always had guest artists joining us,” Haghighi points out. “I am interested in larger discussions. And I like to have that welcoming door open. My artists know that my commitment remains with them, but they’re interested in opening up their work and their ideas to the outside.” Haghighi has planned for seven Utopias Constructed exhibitions, with a retrospective of catalogues published later. This year, Haghighi is in high demand. “I will be working on a curated show at West Vancouver Museum, opening in April, and one at Equinox Gallery for June,” she says eagerly. “I’ve been working on them for a year and a half now.”
Haghighi notes that both shows include Iranian artists, though this is not necessarily the focus. While Haghighi was born in Tehran, and is fluent in Farsi, her show at Equinox will evoke global themes of movement, cultural plurality, and in-betweenness. The participating artists have ancestral roots in Iran, yet their practices are based across North America, Australia, and Scandinavia. “It’s about opening our door—to new viewers, to new audiences—in order to showcase what we have in Vancouver and to bring new artists, new subjects, new content here,” she says. Haghighi has both a passion and a knack for mounting ambitious exhibitions. Even at Republic (a third-floor unit with no elevator access, in one of the oldest buildings on the block) her shows include sculptural and media arts that are costly to install, many of which seem beyond the scope of a commercial gallery. “Difficult install has never deterred me from showing exhibitions that start great conversations,” explains Haghighi. “I think that concept is what many people associate with Republic Gallery.”
Foremost, the gallery is family. When Republic opened its inaugural show, Haghighi was three months pregnant with her son, Daniel. “He has always been around; he’s part of the gallery,” she says. “I feel very lucky to work and be a mom and include Daniel.” Haghighi brings her son to the art fairs at which Republic holds an annual presence, as well as to exhibition openings, training his eye quietly and answering questions as they arise. “He’s interested in building cities,” she notes. “Not with blocks, but by drawing them.” Irrepressibly, she beams: “Would love to have an architect in the family!”
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