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Diaspora and the Arts

Indian Diaspora is varied and multivalent. The only thing they share in common is perhaps the fact that there is no singular definition for the experience of migrating to a foreign land,” says Sharmistha Ray,artist,critic and director at Bodhi Art Gallery.

Written by Georgina Maddox |
June 18, 2009 3:27:00 am

Indian Diaspora is varied and multivalent. The only thing they share in common is perhaps the fact that there is no singular definition for the experience of migrating to a foreign land,” says Sharmistha Ray,artist,critic and director at Bodhi Art Gallery. On Monday evening,the Cymroza Art Gallery was packed with an audience ranging from gallery owners to artists and aficionados,eager to hear Ray,a Williams College Master of History of Art and Criticism,on the matter of Diaspora and Art. Art critic Ranjit Hoskote was also present to initiate a dialogue with Ray and the audience after the talk. The event was hosted by The American Center and the Asia Art Society.

To begin with,Ray traced the journey from the early 1970s when artists like Zarina Hashmi migrated to the US and began working around the issue of displacement to newer voices of the millennium like Chitra Ganesh,Hasan Elahi,Jaishri Abhichandani and Gautam Kansara,artists whose work reflects and conflates their identity as Asians living in the US.

“From post-colonial discourse that dominated the 1990s to debates about globalisation,it has been a long journey. After the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers,a repositioning of migrant communities was required within a larger,more complicated framework,” says Ray.

Set against the backdrop of this kind of political unrest,artists have taken various positions. Ray spoke of three dominant kinds: “The Self and the New World,The Collective Sensibility and Issues of Representation in a post 9/11 hyper intensive world.”

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To explain the ‘self’,Ray spoke of the works of three women artists like Bengali American Reena Banerjee,South Indian American born Ganesh and Mumbai born Abhichandani,who talk of issues of being seen as exotic,as mysterious or as clichés. They quote kitsch and comic books,performance and installation to subvert these notions of being ‘othered’.

Elahi was once detained and questioned by the airport authorities in the US on account of his Islamic name and faith. After which he began a website that tracked his every movement,his meals,the clothes he wore or the lodgings he rented,putting up his entire life for scrutiny. “By becoming hyper-real on the Internet,Elahi actually becomes a non-entity and escapes into a realm which is purely that of symbols and icons. He critiques the scrutiny of his identity by becoming a non-person.”

Hoskote further probed: “These artists have situated themselves within the ambit of being Asian,but one would imagine they have other alliances and ways of belonging.”

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The audience was engaged though some admitted to being a little baffled by some of the many ‘isms’.

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First published on: 18-06-2009 at 03:27:00 am

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