In one of artist Antonio Puris works,he scribbles the meaning of the word varna as to cover,to envelop like a layer of skin. He then describes the origin of the word (varna which means colour in Sanskrit). Under these notes,the artist hits upon a question,Are we as a society,or more so aptly as a human race,stacking people on the basis of their colour?
These ideas form the basis of the artists exhibition of paintings and mixed-media art titled Varna at The Loft in Lower Parel starting January 7. For the project,Puri created a palette of the skin colours of a group of residents from the Dhal ni Pol area in Ahmedabad
Mahatma Gandhis hometown. The idea was to talk about skin colour as a global phenomenon, says the Indian-born,Philadelphia-based artist.
Puri studied skin colours of the Ahmedabad residents and formed a colour palette that he applied on different canvases. He then stacked these canvases forming a towering structure like a DNA helix. I travelled to different countries and realised that everywhere people were being judged by their skin colour. This made me push the idea of creating stacks which portray this inequity or hierarchy that man has created with the fairer skin superior or at the top and the rest at the bottom,
In one work,he has photographed 112 people,forming a collage of their hands. This showed how even a small community can have so many variations in skin colour, says Puri. His work also includes a commentary about the perceptions of skin colour across the world: why the rich and the poor have different skin colour,and how countries such as India,Thailand and Africa spend on skin lightening products while tanning is a status symbol in other countries.
I feel a need to connect to the world through this project,and bring questions of discrimination to the forefront, says Puri,who showed his work in Ahmedabad earlier this year. Colour is a strong basis for separation between people from any community. And appreciating each colour for being unique is the first step to end this discrimination, he says.