Inside the private art collection of OCADU president Sara Diamond

By Vibhu Gairola| Photography by Brittany Carmichael

Fifteen years ago, Sara Diamond owned about 30 pieces of art. Today, the OCADU president seems to have that many pieces in every room of her Palmerston Avenue home. The Victorian townhouse is resplendent with roughly 150 works that speak to Diamond’s interest in self-representation and identity politics. She’s known for her own video and digital media art from the 1980s and early ‘90s, and says her collection is about “rethinking the relationship between the digital and the material, and understanding the representation of both nature and the human body.” Here, a look at some of Diamond’s most outstanding pieces.

Left: 2nd Place Ballroom Dancer
Sandy Nicholson • 2006

“This photo of a dancer shows us someone who has just found out she finished in second place in a competition,” Diamond says, “yet she somehow has the discipline to accept the news.”

Right: Interior/Exterior
Annie Pootoogook • 2005

Pootoogook, a celebrated Inuk artist, died last year; her body was found in the Rideau River, and her death is still under investigation. “This piece is essentially about the difficulties of life in our North.”


Top Left: Badass Indo-Chinese Bride
Nimisha Bhanot • 2015

Diamond bought this piece for Kellie Marlowe, her partner of 35 years, as a birthday present. “It’s by an OCADU alumna. I love her series on naughty brides,” says Diamond. For the series, the artist photographed the models and then transformed them into brides adorned in mendhi (henna), jewelry and bridal attire by painting on the photographs.

Top Right: La Mananda
Rafel Bestard • 2013

This bedroom wall is filled with images of gutsy, self-possessed women reclaiming their power. Diamond purchased the Bestard at Art Toronto in 2014, and it fits into the artist’s obsession with documenting the absurd and disturbing in nature. “I find the piece incredibly humorous, almost like a feminist intervention,” she says. “It’s Little Red Riding Hood, and she’s pissing amongst the wolves. So, rather than her being a victim of the wolves, she’s the alpha and asserting herself over them.”

Bottom Left: The Fab Three: Vaginal Davis, Jenny Shimizu and Sara Diamond
Catherine Opie • 1991

Included in the mix are two photos of Diamond herself, taken by American fine-art photographer Catherine Opie, a friend and one-time student. In this one, Diamond is wearing a striped Jean Paul Gaultier dress alongside the seminal drag performer Vaginal Davis and model-actress Jenny Shimizu, “the sexiest butch in the L.A. underground scene.”

Bottom Right: The Queen of Diamonds, Always & Forever
Catherine Opie • 1991

In this photo, Diamond is reframed as the Queen of Diamonds for a series Opie did on playing cards.


Top: Untitled
Fiona Smyth • 2006

Diamond’s side of the bedroom features brazen, humorous images of female empowerment (her partner Kellie’s side is a calmer collection of landscapes). In this piece, the subjects are cannibalizing each other, while a vagina sheds diamonds like rain from above. “It looks like nobody is being destroyed: the characters are both being eaten and re-emerging, so there’s a cyclical aspect that I enjoy,” Diamond says. “The vibe I get is that women’s sexuality is on an otherworldly rampage. It helps me go off to work feeling cheerful.”

Bottom: Belle Sauvage
Lori Blondeau • 2005

Diamond admits she is a “carefully constrained belle sauvage.” Blondeau is making fun of the ways women, particularly with guns, get represented. “Works that talk about self-representation and identity in this way can seem confrontational at first,” she says. “But we often host dinner parties and show our guests around the house, and I think that they find it safer to see and engage with these pieces in a domestic space than in stark exhibition venues.”



Bisected Peach
JJ Lee • 2007

Above the bed, a softer piece on sewn mylar and handmade paper handmade paper contrasts the exuberance of the power wall. Diamond says that Lee, a colleague of hers at OCADU, has a great sense of humour. “She likes to say that she’s an equal opportunist and an appropriator,” Diamond says. Lee’s works mix media—oils, inks, crayons, silk, wood—and reference everything from Audubon Society quotations to Song dynasty sayings and acupuncture charts. “I don’t actually know what the Chinese character in the piece means,” she says. “And now I think I need to find out!"


Left: A Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man
Patrick DeCoste • 2002

“This one causes people to pause.” The subject in the piece is either asleep or dead, his hands seemingly bound behind his back. “He’s naked but it’s not an objectified body,” says Diamond. “It is erotic but, because you’re encountering it in the home of two women, I think it opens up the minds and the imagination of people.”


Prisoner Lisovaia
Olga Chagaoutdinova • 2013

Most of the portraits in Diamond’s collection are intentionally placed along the stairway—it forces her and her guests to engage with them every time they go up or down the stairs. Chagoutdinova’s Prisoner Lisovaia makes Diamond tearful at times. “I bought it at a charity auction after seeing it as part of the series Chagaoutdinova did on prisoners,” she says. “This was the one in the series I was most struck by. It stayed with me; it brings up some harder questions. Is the work objectifying people who are victimized or does it help us understand a moment or condition?”


Left: Somewhere in the Neighbourhood
Kim Dorland • 2007

“Kim did a whole series on L.A., so I wondered if the strokes in the background were palm trees,” Diamond says. Once, another woman who had wanted to buy the piece visited Diamond’s home, and they phoned the artist on the spot to ask where it was set; she told them it was Toronto.

Right: Trapped Deer
Rafael Ochoa • 2013

Diamond calls this piece “the perfect marriage between the physical and digital.” The artist photographed the setting, deer and angel, then enhanced certain aspects—like the deer’s hair—digitally. “I think that putting the Dorland and Ochoa together creates a great conversation between natural and urban landscapes.”


Left: Lead Field No. 1
Ram Samocha • 2012

This metalpoint-on-rock-paper piece, in the living room, is the product of a very repetitive process. “It would’ve been gruelling for the artist to make, so there’s this idea of embedded stamina which I quite like,” Diamond says. “People are fascinated by how sculptural the piece is, because it really does ‘come off’ the paper.”

Right: Untitled
Esther Choi • 2010

Choi’s piece appears three dimensional, but is actually a photograph of Venetian blinds in movement. “I thought it was just so elegant and such an amazing, perfect photograph,” Diamond says. “Having the product of intense physical work placed next to something that captures one perfect moment creates exactly the kind of conversation I’m interested in.”


Centre: Daylight Mystery
Alex McLeod • 2013

At the head of the dinner table is this magical backlit scene. It’s perhaps the only fantasy landscape in the whole collection. McLeod, and OCADU alumnus, is better known for photo- and video-based pieces. “Kellie and I saw this piece in Jamie Angell’s office [at Angell Gallery] and we fell in love,” Diamond says. “It’s like having an ad hoc water feature in our dining room! So much of the work in our house is heavy—I mean, the piece next to it refers to the devastation and suppression of freedom of speech in Beijing leading up to the 2008 Olympics [the circular piece with the pink river]—so it’s good to have a little bit of happiness in there as well.”


Black Liquid: Exude
Callum Schuster • 2013

This corner of the dining room features a copper-and-silicone installation that Diamond jokingly refers to as an oil spill, made by OCADU alumnus Callum Schuster. “I thought it would be funny and horrifying to have it drip it onto the other pieces,” Diamond says.

Pink Creature: Familiars, Mariko Tamaki
Allyson Mitchell • 2007

“I love having this creature look out at the table observing our dinner parties,” she says.

White Box: Headdress (Burton Blanket Abstract Panel)
Mark Preston • 2016

Preston studied silver carving under the Gitxsan artist Phil Janze. He eventually went into wood carving and has been creating minimalist works ever since.


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