Samara Contemporary showcases work from both national and international artists together in a comprehensive arts hub in Toronto's most eclectic neighbourhood.
Part-retail space, part-gallery, Samara sits in a building on Augusta Avenue that has functioned as an artist-run, multidisciplinary workspace for nearly a decade.
Longtime arts curator and independent Rafi Ghanaghounian has transformed the 1,500-square-foot space into an accessible gallery, where emerging contemporary creators and big ticket artists alike can show and sell their art.
As Augusta continues its leisurely collection of arts spaces—what with OCAD's Ignite Gallery right across the street and Whippersnapper on the street's southern tip—Ghanaghounian's experience brings a more rooted touch to Toronto's airy exhibition rooms.
Having lived in Kensington Market for over 20 years—he moved here from Brampton and never left—Ghanaghounian's experience isn't limited to curation (though he's also acted as executive director of Keep 6 Contemporary, among other spaces).
As a graduate of OCAD's drawing and painting program, he's also a practicing artist who's been involved in Toronto's arts scene for years, lending Samara (a portmanteau of Ghanaghounian's name with his wife's and son's) some clout when it comes to exhibiting artists.
The gallery's inaugural exhibit, Centrepiece, featured an exciting mix of works from internationally-acclaimed Canadian artists like Shary Boyle, Cathy Daley, and Luke Parnell alongside some standout Toronto up-and-comers.
The playful, Memphis group-inspired front area of the store is dedicated to selling small items from artists showing in the space, along with books and lifestyle items from other Toronto creators.
Wonky coloured-furniture and a presentation area dedicated to jewellery hold ceramic works from Julie Moon (her work glazed stone piece Bromeliad is also showing in the back) and Casey Hinton's wood block necklaces made from skipping rope.
Samara also helps facilitate new merchandise for artists, as seen through the playful Samara-commissioned pillows and t-shirts from Dave Setrakian, a.k.a. TAVO.
In the back is the exhibit space, which will hold around eight curated shows a year. Eschewing the typical clean, white walls of other galleries, Samara's space remains versatile and open to complete remodeling.
The Centrepiece show is intimate but offers enough space between large pieces like Emily Jan's Apologue I: The Anteater, a mesmerizing mixed media piece of wool, silicone, and faux flowers.
Media is definitely not limited to painting here: other mixed media includes a pair of prints from Leo Scopascasa and a functioning Instagram character-inspired water fountain by Kaley Flowers.
A whole wall is dedicated to David Salazar's porcelain aviary-meets-floral Bird Botanical, and Kent Monkman's Resilience Plate collection is a brilliant re-design of Canada's founding fathers.
Taking up a large corner in the back: a mesmerizing and comforting crocheted masterpiece called Shame Mothers by Chason Yeboah, a young, self-taught artist exploring trans and non-binary dolls.
Open to the public, Samara's approach to offering visitors a retail experience before the exhibit space offers a rare type of gallery visit that's both immersive and accessible in what's historically Toronto's most welcoming neighbourhood.