Best of CityPlace

Artist, Maha Mustafa’s, perspective on public space & art & CityPlace

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Whether you’re a CityPlace local or just visiting, it’s hard to miss Approaching Red. Like many works of public art, Approaching Red captures the eyes and minds of passers-by. The bright red waves against the surrounding concrete draw you in, but you may not have known about the mind behind this vibrant piece.

Photo credit: Laura Rossi

Approaching Red by Maha, Photo credit: Laura Rossi

Maha Mustafa, renowned artist and sculptor, comes from an artistic family who encouraged her to pursue her passions. She was born in Baghdad, Iraq where she immersed herself in as much culture as she could while studying at Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Art.

The idea of viewing a city as a home where people are a part of it—integrated within it.

“I dedicated those years to researching art history and finding different methods of working with various materials that expressed my thoughts and ideas,” said Maha.  “It was difficult to express my imagination in a place where I was not free to express my thoughts and opinions, so I spent a lot of time in the National Museum of Iraq, trying to find space to free my mind.”

The Iraq–Iran War and the Gulf War had a profound impact on Maha and ultimately pushed her to leave Baghdad.  “After the first Gulf War in 1990, Baghdad, the city I knew so well, was destroyed. I decided to travel.” Maha studied and worked extensively in Sweden, where she became fascinated by the idea of public space and in her words, “The idea of viewing a city as a home where people are a part of it—integrated within it.”

In 2000, Maha’s travels brought her to Toronto.

“It is such a dynamic city, in constant growth and movement, but at the same time, I would like to see more buildings with quality rather than quantity,” said Maha. “I got the opportunity to create a sculpture in a new public space, which brought me closer to the city.”

Maha’s works have since appeared at Fort York, Union Station, and in 2013, Maha unveiled Approaching Red—transforming the newly-built Concord CityPlace condo development.

Lighting Canoes by Maha, Photo Credit: Laura Rossi

“It was a really interesting journey…When I began working with [Concord], some of the site only existed in drawings on paper or a model. It was really interesting to enforce imagination onto a place that does not exist,” said Maha. She took a holistic approach to building her proposal, drawing on the site’s physical location and history for inspiration.

“I chose the red colour to contrast with all the concrete and glass that exists along the street, giving the area a pop of colour and a feeling of warmth.”