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Immigration, Impermanence and the Self: Meet Indian Artists Exploring Religion, Fusion and Femininity By way of Artwork

Whereas her household celebrated conventional festivities, an early-teen Sarvani Kolachana sat remoted in a room together with her used sanitary napkins. Her trash, her meals and her physique had been to stay separate for that day. 

Kolachana’s mother defined that practices deeming menstruating ladies impure originated as a result of the burden on ladies was excessive. Forcing them right into a separate room, at the very least for per week, gave them house and a second to chill out. In accordance with Kolachana, it gave a rationale for why the rituals got here into being, however in right this moment’s occasions the rationale is a problematic interpretation.

“They educate you principally to be uncomfortable along with your physique like that,” she mentioned. “That discomfort is taught.”

Utilizing artwork as a medium, Kolachana is attempting to speak the childhood tales her mother informed her, and the way in which she sees her mom as an grownup, whereas reflecting on her childhood in a fancy array of feelings. Folks round her taught her to not query the way in which issues had been and he or she felt ashamed when she did. Sick and disgusted however unable to do something, Kolachana noticed what custom did to her household. 

“They had been so indoctrinated into this horrible perception system,” she mentioned.

Kolachana’s works at her open studio for Roski depict nostalgia and tales from her mother. Picture Courtesy of Prachi Singh/USC.


Kolachana confronted how ingrained the patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes had been in her prolonged household whereas she was an undergraduate on the College of California San Diego. She actively evaluated their beliefs to discover a strategy to have sophisticated discussions and alter longstanding beliefs. The ladies in her household encourage her to consider what womanhood means in India; she thinks of her work as reminiscences and seeks solutions about herself.

“My identification is a queer South Asian determine and a girl. How do I take into consideration these issues?” Kolachana questions.

Kolachana doesn’t have a look at what she is making whereas her fingers deftly loop and interlock to crochet a thread from a deep purple spool, a shade she considers potent and associated to faith. It reminds her of vermilion, bindis—womanhood, faith and power— and menstruation. 

The group of artists from the South Asian diaspora faces a number of dilemmas, in keeping with the Asian Diasporic Visible Cultures and the Americas, a peer-reviewed journal. One is that livelihood, alternatives and rewards are provided to those that are “simply categorizable or serve methods that marginalize and criminalize our views, whereas artists and tradition staff who search to subvert and in the end dismantle these failing methods lack organized options.”

Discrimination has stored their lengthy historical past within the Americas a secret, forcing South Asians to vanish for security, the examine says. Now, artists in the USA are difficult the narrative of South Asian mannequin minorities. 

[Read Related: Reconciling Cultural Dilution With the Inevitable Evolution of my Diasporic Identity]

“We have now a type of a subversive technique of South Asian American artists, significantly those that establish as queer, which is this sort of selective, revealing and obscuring,” mentioned Anuradha Vikram, up to date artwork critic, curator, author and educator.

There are two causes for this, she mentioned. One is to complicate the narrative in order that it isn’t simply reconstructed right into a extra singular and due to this fact fascist narrative. The opposite, she mentioned, is when the group speaks on their points, they’re threatening the established order as a result of the problems muddy the clear distinctions between black and white and brown.

“Within the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals his full godly energy to Arjuna on the battlefield. Arjuna can not look straight at Krishna. It’s too overwhelming. He has to look away,” Vikram mentioned, referencing the revered Hindu textual content. “We can not reveal our full divinity. It’s too overwhelming. Folks need to look away.”

The feminine physique

For Vrinda Aggarwal, her artwork seems to be like her anxiousness. 

In one among her installations, ashes, menstrual blood and markings smeared onto movie solid shadows on alcohol bottles full of hair. She holds a wierd relationship together with her hair, she mentioned and amassing it helps her course of its loss. 

The markings had been obsessive and arbitrary to assist her make sense of her exploration and creation whereas coping with her anxiousness. So had been the shreds of black and white trash baggage hanging over her head in her studio.

Hair in alcohol bottles artwork set up. Courtesy of Prachi Singh/USC.

Hoping to maneuver away from the binary of success and failure, Aggarwal works to create frameworks for herself. For instance, at present, she’s working with discovered materials. She feels amassing her hair and her blood helps her to persuade herself of her existence and discover the thought of failure.

“I can’t actually go improper with amassing my hair,” she mentioned. “I can simply accumulate much less or extra of it.”

At Aggarwal’s MFA thesis exhibition, a big white wall displayed a projection of her eyes, lips and fingers in spinning spheres that had been mixing, vanishing and reappearing. 

Beside that, hidden behind a curtain was a chair, a trash bag and an iPad taking part in a video with Aggarwal rising out of the bag. She needed to permit the guests to expertise being caught and ripping out of it to simply accept themselves. 

“Alcohol bottles with hair, my physique discombobulated on show, it’s very bodily,” Aggarwal mentioned when the absence of her dad and mom was famous. 

Rising up in India, Aggarwal believed that her life can be higher overseas. At residence, she felt she couldn’t put on sure issues or be a sure manner. Right here, she feels ladies have extra company.

Anoushka Mirchandani, an Indian-born, San Francisco-based artist, had related experiences. As a younger lady in India, everybody taught her to worry her physique and sexuality. Rising up, she was all the time trying over her shoulder.

“And the questions that all the time got here to thoughts had been: am I exhibiting an excessive amount of pores and skin? Is my skirt too brief? Am I inviting undesirable consideration?” she mentioned. Such questions, after they’re part of life early on, create a dysfunctional relationship of worry and disgrace with one’s physique.

She began specializing in her artwork when she was looking for her manner again to herself and in some ways, it was a rediscovery of her actual identification.

‘Tuning in,’ an art work by Anoushka Mirchandani from 2020. Picture Courtesy of the artist.

In her early works, she did quite a lot of nude figurative work: self-portraits or work of ladies round her. For Mirchandani, it was a type of remedy to discover a manner again to her physique and mend the connection she had with it. 

“My artwork is a protest by way of my very own identification,” she mentioned. “It’s simply in a distinct, softer manner.”

As a girl in America, she discovered the company in her physique that she by no means felt entry to in India, and nonetheless doesn’t. 

“There’s one [painting] I not too long ago had, of me on the couch. I’m simply hanging out in my lingerie, on the couch with my cat,” Mirchandani mentioned. “There’s no manner that I might carry myself like that in my private house, in my residence in India.”

‘Tuning in,’ an art work by Anoushka Mirchandani from 2020. Picture Courtesy of the artist.

Immigration and identification

Initially from Hyderabad, India, Arshia Fatima Haq migrated to the U.S. at a really younger age and incessantly traveled backwards and forwards. From early on she had a way of being from a number of locations and no place on the identical time. 

She didn’t intend to enter an artwork observe however felt the necessity to share issues about her interior world together with the 2 worlds she got here from as a manner of finding herself and processing her identification. Together with her non secular background as an Indian Muslim, she had a need to inform these tales.

Nonetheless, it was a tough space to barter due to the Islamic aesthetic pedagogy and portraying the world the place illustration has been a contested space. One can not make a common generalization as a result of, inside Islam, there are lots of Islams, she mentioned, and it’s a complexity that sadly is simply too usually flattened and diminished. 

She was getting into the thought of storytelling with the complexity in the direction of illustration, each from the sense of actually drawing or photographing one thing and what it means on a metaphorical degree to signify an expertise. 

“Particularly one among an identification that’s extra culturally fraught and in addition coming from a female physique,” Haq mentioned. 

Her early impulse was to talk in code, however to not conceal something. She needed to explain her experiences like poetry. She’s inclined to be much less direct together with her storytelling. She is impressed by the French author, Édouard Glissant, who calls opacity a option to resolve what you share and conceal, particularly in the event you’re coming from a marginalized group and taking a look at self-guided invisibility as a method to energy or autonomy.

“I feel this can be a second the place there’s quite a lot of focus from throughout the establishment on tales from black and brown individuals,” Haq mentioned. “There’s virtually like this crucial for us to inform our tales. However by some means they develop into type of commodified or harnessed for different pursuits.”

Haq created a photograph collection, Rihla, as pictorial descriptions of various phases of a non secular journey. Not recreating the six phases of this journey completely primarily based on analysis, Haq presents her personal interpretation of what these may be. There’s a little bit of autobiography that comes into all her initiatives.

From the picture collection, ‘Rihla’ envisions completely different collection of the Sufi journey, together with annihilation, union and purification. Picture Courtesy of Arshia Haq.

Because the work is concerning the inside journey, the individual is going through away from the digital camera. It’s a self-portrait with a flip on what individuals would anticipate: to see the topic. 

“This additionally ties again to one among my favourite theories, Glissant’s opacity,” Haq mentioned. “After which once more, in the event you’re turning inwards, you’re turning perhaps away from the gaze of others.”

Aggarwal additionally finds herself in a battle between the push to create artwork as a illustration of her identification versus her personal ambitions. When Aggarwal joined the Roski College of Artwork and Design she was anticipated to signify India via her work. The college, she mentioned, emphasizes identification within the artwork college students create.

Presently, her work offers with a way of loss. A big a part of her artwork explores rising up in India and learning right here. Utilizing trash, she needs to research what we’ve, lose, throw away and convey with us to a brand new place. She makes use of repetition and patterns to gather supplies as a mindfulness observe to find herself and hopes to create space for acceptance.

Vrinda Aggarwal put in her art work of paperwork. Courtesy of Prachi Singh/USC.


When Mirchandani got here to the States she felt like a fish out of water. She shape-shifted to suit into the bigger context of the Ohio group the place she lived on the time. 

“In a manner, I actually misplaced myself,” she mentioned. “I misplaced a way of who I’m.”

She needed to deconstruct the Indian cultural narrative that artwork was not a severe profession. It took her some time to pursue artwork professionally. When she did, it felt trustworthy as a result of she felt she had been dwelling an inauthentic life for a very long time.

As she began to really feel extra current and assured in her pores and skin, her work turned much less literal and figurative. Whereas her work nonetheless carries that thread, it’s nuanced and speaks extra about identification, how individuals carry themself in numerous areas and the way they really feel assimilating in a overseas context. 

“All of us do that. Not [just] us as immigrants,” Mirchandani mentioned. “However all of us do it by way of once we transfer between completely different social, political, environmental contexts, we select to disclose completely different elements of our identities in numerous contexts.”

However as an immigrant, she mentioned, one does it extra as a result of they’re transferring between huge polarities of tradition. In her work, she fills some areas and leaves some empty, masking and revealing the immigrant expertise. 

Having lived for an virtually equal period of time in each locations, Mirchandani’s work doesn’t overtly have Indian motifs. It’s extra tender and refined, she mentioned, representing how she feels about being diasporic and cobbled collectively by way of identification. 

“I Belong,” an art work by Anoushka Mirchandani from 2021. Picture Courtesy of the artist.

“You reveal and conceal completely different elements in numerous contexts, however the work are the one place the place all of these come collectively,” she mentioned.

Collective reminiscences and momentariness 

Mirchandani’s exhibition, I Resemble Everybody However Myself, was a narrative of assimilation. A number of work had been primarily based on archival images and interviews together with her grandmothers. She positioned herself into them to carry their tales into the now, mashing them collectively so that you don’t know what’s the timeline, who’s who and what’s the technology. And it was about residence; how residence shouldn’t be essentially a spot or an individual, however a gathering of objects, locations, areas, smells, concepts, and meals.

Her grandparents by no means shared the tales of their migration to India in the course of the partition. This challenge, Mirchandani mentioned, introduced them collectively to lastly inform their narrative. She needs these work to evoke the approaching collectively of all of their tales and journeys of assimilation. They needed to assimilate into India by pressure. When Mirchadani needed to do it within the States, she did it by alternative. 

“This present is for them, by me, by them,” she mentioned.

Alongside related traces of creating artwork primarily based on lineage, when Kolachana talks about faith, she creates issues primarily based on poisonous, conventional Brahmin practices that she and her feminine relations have personally skilled. 

Coming from a privileged and upper-caste household, Kolachana mentioned, she doesn’t really feel that she might be the suitable individual to make commentaries on caste points. With each her dad and mom coming from Brahmin households, faith factored massively into their lives contributing to her understanding herself, she mentioned. 

“I’ve skilled as a girl how these very deeply ritualistic conventional practices might be oppressive,” she mentioned. She understands that girls dwelling in patriarchal areas and cultures go unheard.

“So centering them of their labor is one thing that’s actually essential to me,” she mentioned. “What they do to knit collectively households and hope [for a] patchwork society.”

One among her items began out as a structured recreation of a cupboard the place Kolachana was attempting to reconstruct a prayer room that she discovered as an anchor level in virtually each Indian family. She hung the crocheted textile piece, suspended in house in her exhibition.

“I attempted to begin off with a base and construct out a wall. And what I began noticing is unwillingness to adapt to the rigidity of the construction of a prayer room, as a result of crochet is such a flexible and malleable type,” Kolachana mentioned. “So I began taking part in with the ways in which I used to be crocheting. I turned looser. I type of broke out of that ritual in a manner, and I created new paths for myself.”

Crochet was handed down from Kolachana’s grandma to her mother. It’s an intimate factor for her mother who then taught it to Kolachana, who sees it as a via line within the lineage. 

I consider it as a female craft. Crochet was a method to an finish for them. It was a strategy to occupy their time,” she mentioned. “It’s a distinct type of ritual that they might return to, to orient themselves temporally, nevertheless it’s one thing that they might do to beautify the function of a girl.”

Kolachana together with her mother at her undergraduate open studios for USC Roski. Courtesy of Prachi Singh/USC.

Kolachana thinks of it as a metaphor for the home labor that’s typically invisible however sustains the home. By breaking the inflexible type, she is inserting her voice into that custom, which isn’t traditionally allowed or anticipated. She likes to play with the fluidity of crochet and stretch it, which she will’t do with the rituals. 

“Crochet has no reminiscence in a way, which is admittedly attention-grabbing since you imbue it with a lot work,” she mentioned. “After which on the finish of the day, it retains none of it if you wish to unravel it.”

Comparably, Haq’s ‘The Ascension’ was a challenge that had in its very conceptualization that ephemerality the place the factor that you simply labor to create disappears by the point you’re carried out.

It was a chunk representing the picture of Buraq, a considerably contested and complex determine in its lineage. Half girl, half horse, and half wing, she had been on Haq’s thoughts since her childhood. Buraq in all probability has pre-Islamic origins and isn’t talked about within the scripture. To create Buraq, Haq needed to make use of gilding as a nod to non secular artwork.

Haq is within the course of of making the sculpture representing Buraq. Picture Courtesy of Arshia Haq.

“However once more, working in type of an absurd manner, to try to gild this sculpture in ice earlier than it melts,” she mentioned. “And then you definitely spend all this time in labor. However then the message of it, the construction of it really falls aside.”

When two individuals discuss, Haq mentioned, there’s an invisible contract that we’re agreeing to speak about one thing. We considerably cut back our personal expertise with a purpose to have a shared language. 

To her, the paradox within the thought of attempting to signify the divine is that the divine is one thing that can not be diminished. The concept of working with ice, which was going to ultimately change type and lose its form was an exquisite medium to signify that paradox. Haq has deep ties to her religion. The non secular language, metaphors and poetry resonate together with her.

[Read Related: Celebrating Femininity and Strength: The Always Raas Journey]

“Whether or not it’s a non secular textual content or only a piece of literature. You may learn one thing on a really literal degree or you’ll be able to learn it on a extra poetic degree.”

To her faith is sort of a authorized system, which typically works by constructing communities and societies by following some shared codes.

“However it’s also so many occasions exclusionary. Our group does this and your group doesn’t. Due to this fact, you’re an outsider or an outcast with or with out an E on the finish.”

Haq believes that each individual goes via a journey of discovering what the essential questions are. And in the event you’re not interested by it, then you definitely’re not utilizing the complete capability of your humanity. And typically inflexible approaches to faith are inclined to take out that ingredient of questioning.

“For me, the extra attention-grabbing and profound strategy to method these texts is the second manner, which is to take a look at them virtually as poetry,” Haq mentioned. “As a result of it additionally then requires that you simply’re doing a extra profound excavation of your self.”

The opinions expressed by the author of this piece, and people offering feedback thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and don’t essentially mirror the opinions of Brown Woman Journal, Inc., or any of its staff, administrators, officers, associates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM shouldn’t be answerable for the accuracy of any of the knowledge equipped by the Writers. It’s not the intention of Brown Woman Journal to malign any faith, ethnic group, membership, group, firm, or particular person. When you have a grievance about this content material, please e mail us at This submit is topic to our Phrases of Use and Privateness Coverage. In the event you’d prefer to submit a visitor submit, please observe the rules we’ve set forth right here.

The submit Immigration, Impermanence and the Self: Meet Indian Artists Exploring Religion, Fusion and Femininity By way of Artwork appeared first on Brown Woman Journal.

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