My body of work explores the Indian culture of Chennai, where I was expatriated three years ago. This theme emerged from my curiosity and desire to understand my environment. Raised in a European context from mixed Indian and French origins, I wanted to represent my own experiences and interpretations of everyday occurrences. My works explore paradoxical cultural values between Western and Indian, which reflect my own internal dilemmas making sense of local customs. The impact and presence of religions, societal pressure imposed by tradition, and environmental pollution are issues that I observed by emerging myself in the context of Chennai. These themes appeared embedded in my experience of the culture and helped me explore both its positive and challenging sides. Other works allude to my status as a foreigner and emerging feelings of isolation are explored through animal symbols such as the crows or cows, both present in the urban environment of Chennai.
Street Surrealism reflects how I felt discovering Chennai for the first time. I used cartoon-style drawing and incorporated science-fiction elements to represent my first impression of the street near my house. The materiality of my artworks is often locally sourced to contextualize and add to the context explored: In Daily Wear, the idea of Indian identity was transmitted through traditional clothing and artisanal knowledge, by learning local techniques of bending bamboo and collecting scraps of fabric from local tailor shops. Everyday materials, such as fishing nets from the fishermen villages are altered adding a new meaning as their fabric creates a three-dimensional environment connecting the fishing activity to plastic pollution of Chennai’s sea. In the installations Knot viewers are invited to enter and feel the atmosphere of the fisherman village represented through the net. Similarly, I collected used bricks and cement pieces to represent the detrimental aspect of the rush of urban construction in The Making. The omnipresent animals in the city are used as symbols, cows reflect religious paradox through their portrayal in In The Making and In Sacrifices of the Deities crows personify the discomfort of not belonging because of their reputation as scavengers in Intruding. Specific techniques were used in Intruding as I explored the overwhelming impact of numbers through repetition of casted crows to further emphasize a feeling of suffocation. Similarly, the coexistence of religions in Chennai is portrayed through deconstructing and re-assembling my three paintings of places of cult in Weaving of Religion. In the mixed media work Lacerating Jewels, the symbol of a wedding necklace is altered as harsh materials of barbed wired and pieces of broken glass are used to represent the harmful impact of arranged marriage in India. The Harshness of the materiality expresses how societal pressures hurt women under the cover of appearance and reputation.
The exhibition is organized to invite the viewer to discover Chennai through the works presented and reflect on the themes embedded in my experience of the culture.
Dual identity. Experiencing two vastly different cultures, India and Korea, led me to continuously seek for an understanding of my identity. My strong desire to gain a sense of belonging as a teenager with multicultural experience has constantly challenged me. The seven years of my journey, which continues today, has inspired me to examine my inner and outer aspects in a deeper manner. As being unique is crucial to prevent the complete loss of one’s identity, I have constantly sought to gain a clear understanding of my identity to find comfort and avoid confusion.
The body of work centers around three main factors that led me to encounter confusion which was crucial in the development of my dual identity. The factors that I focused on are language, clothing, and traditional culture between Korea and India. Language is an essential form of communication in constructing human relationships and connections. Therefore, the language barrier that I faced during my transition from Korea to India further enhanced my confusion in regards to my identity. However, as my English skills developed and the range of interactions widened, I was able to expand my ability to view different perspectives and achieve international-mindedness. Similarly, the cultural difference in clothing played an important role. In India, it was considered culturally inappropriate to wear certain clothes that I wore in Korea. As a result, the restrictions that I already experienced due to other cultural differences intensified, further resulting in the exploration of my identity. Thus, the body of work explores these challenges, illustrating my journey in having to negotiate cultural differences to accepting the preciousness of my dual identity that evolved over time.
A variety of disciplines are explored in this body of works: painting, sculpture, mold-making, photography, fabrics and fiber, and wearable artwork. I often used metaphors to represent and make connections to conceptual underpinning in my work. One of the extended metaphors that were used is Jasmine and Hibiscus flowers, which can be examined through Inside Out, Transformation, Inside Out v2, and Equilibrium. Jasmine and Hibiscus symbolize both cultures. The flowers are not used merely because they are the national flowers of each country, but because of their significance in both cultures in relation to abundance in region, religion, and reference to national histories. Hence, the blending and merging of Jasmine and Hibiscus represent my dual cultural identity. Materiality and appropriation are also significant in the artworks. To illustrate the distinctive traditional cultures, I used carefully selected traditional objects in my works. In Transformation, I used the Saree and Hanbok, the traditional clothing of Korea and India, to depict the seven years of the journey from avoidance to acceptance of my experiences that came to form my identity. In Cornerstone, I used the language of both countries to explore and convey the development of the hybrid identity as the language has helped me widen the range of interaction and multicultural experience. In Hide and Seek, I incorporated the Neoul, a traditional hat that was worn by an upper-class woman in Korea that has the dual meaning of wanting to hide and explore, and in Embracement, I incorporated traditional Korean masks, Hahoetals, to illustrate the process of embracing the difference in both cultures. Among these artworks, Transformation bridges between form and content to reveal stages of acceptance of my multicultural experience. I employed photography and performance in self-portraits in which I visually connected the experience in the transformation between confusion to acceptance of my identity through body gestures and materials. In this work, I used Hanbok and Saree, the traditional clothing of both cultures, to highlight my experiences of clothing that contributed to the confusion in my multicultural experience.
These works are personal, but they allow for the audience to reflect on their own identities, cultural experiences and personal conflicts they may have faced, and grown from with a greater understanding of acceptance for a culture other than their own.
This exhibition encapsulates my viewpoints and perspectives on pressing social matters that exist in India. Looking holistically, these works portray an extensive scale of certain social issues that are often tabooed and concealed such as acid violence and gender inequality. My artistic process has been shaped by experiences of growing up in India, observations from everyday life in public and private spaces, and exposure through travels. An example of this is when I spent a week at the Kochi Biennale, the largest contemporary Art exhibition in Asia, and I was captivated by unconventional artists who are fearless in their vision.
Raised in a progressive family, I strongly believe in inclusivity and female empowerment; and it infuriates me to see gender-based injustices in society. As these matters captivated me, I saw an opportunity to express my views and opinions on such sensitive topics through art. Moreover, as a young girl living in India, it was clear to me that my sociocultural background
has had a strong impact on my views as I’ve witnessed discrimination and gender inequality in India. Therefore, through my artworks, I intended to spread messages and perspectives on subjects that bother and puzzle me. The underlying themes being explored in my work revolve around female empowerment while delving into smaller and more focused issues
such as the misrepresentation of women, unrealistic social expectations, symbols for empowerment, and the burden of women. Throughout my process, research and analysis were crucial in authentically bringing out the messages that were to be conveyed. Through in-depth artist investigations, the artist's intentions and framework for a piece can be decoded on why one employs specific elements and principles of art. Inspiration from these artists assists in the composition of pieces. However, there is always iteration and refinement in arriving at my final piece. This process helped to set a foundation for my work and also helped in brainstorming the use of different mediums and materiality.
The concepts in each work on display have been created through a range of mediums including installations, watercolor paintings, stop motion animations and fabric printing. Consciously deciding on materiality helped to accentuate the intentions of the piece. The work The Effects Of Sharp Water conveys strong messages about the barbaric crime of acid attacks against women in India. This heinous crime rarely advocates for women’s safety and therefore needed to rise to the surface. Taking several photos of acid victims off the internet, pixelating them and layering gouache on their faces helped to suppress and conceal each of their true identity. The appropriation of these secondary images creates density and substance to the composition. Further, the intentionality of printing these images onto silk was chosen because of its association with beauty and elegance, thus empowering the victims as they’re embedded within sheer silk. In addition, draped over the silk is another piece of fabric with a poignant and personal poem stenciled on it- to evoke strong emotional response The Butterfly Effect explores the metaphor for female empowerment through hanging origami butterflies and wallpaper installation. Artist FX Harsono’s work on representing memories as butterflies piloted this piece in using that symbol as empowerment. The installation comprises over 60 origami and ink washed butterflies that are hung in front of a large scale vinyl digital butterfly wallpaper. However, due to limited space, the wallpaper was cut to size and the paper butterflies were stuck onto it.
The body of work lends itself to an immersive interaction between the art and the viewers. When observing the pieces, the audience is encouraged to initiate discussion in response to the works. as well as uncover gender-based injustices in society. The main goal is to help the audience grasp the intentions and messages being conveyed on the overarching theme of female empowerment, to essentially educate and bring about social change through this oeuvre.
My artworks involve the conflicts that I face both internally and externally that are imposed on me by my culture, family expectations, and society. I created artworks that display my emotions and identity that resemble myself. I draw from my personal experiences of family, and social circles, and observations in my surroundings that I see, feel, and experience in Korean culture. I pay attention and make lists of what sparks my attention and write them down as a starting point for my ideas and used this process as a source material to address my topic. I have expressed my ideas through a range of media including clay, ink drawing, and fabric objects, video, and installations.
I examined and explored the pressures that I face by my parents who are from the Korean ethnicity of typical cultural norms and Korean customs that thrive in the community. The Korean community has perfectionism as a key base of success, devaluing people with academics, wealth, and appearances. Questioning these pressures, my artwork addresses my personal intentions that go against the customs in my cultural community. In working with this topic, I utilized the concept of stains, which cannot be removed and remains a mark. Stains are considered unacceptable as they are not honorable or visually appealing. This metaphor relates to the expectations of perfection and just a minor mistake affects how people judge others. In my process stains are applied to fabrics, and I ripped the fabrics and stitch them back together reconstructing them the wrong order to imply that I guide my own path and others do not choose my path.
The main materials in the artworks are divided into stoneware clay and fabric. Clay was used in Life Construction, Cats and Mouse, Overload, and True Feelings. The usage of clay is crucial to these artworks because the figures and objects sculpted with clay act as symbolism like cats and large towers. The Cats and Mouse, in which the cat chases a mouse, is a metaphor for the conflict and the implementation of animals. I connected this metaphor to my own personal conflicts with competition and chasing after the idea of being the best. Overload is a sculpture that highlights how high expectations for success by parents are viewed by students through piling multiples of medals that represent success from academics and sports. The struggle to meet the expectations is illustrated on the devastated face and the kneeled posture. A thin fabric that is nearly transparent was to be covering the sculpture to represent the student’s intention to hide their feelings to not disrespect the parents.
In the stained works, the fabric is used to demonstrate stains that represent an unacceptable characteristic that cannot be erased. Fabrics were used in Stained Reconstruction, Stained Words, and The Hidden. The ripped fabric and stains demonstrate the painful injury that separates me as a whole and the process of washing the stains and stitching the fabric back represents the efforts for recovery which always leave scars behind. The mismatched connections represent a path that does not follow a conventional path, and stitching the drapery fabric back into a new shape represents a path that is created by individual passion. The work Hidden utilizes mismatched reconstruction of fabric with an empty space on the bottom where a family video is shown. A video of my family experiencing and enjoying a moment in time is supposed to be integrated into the drapery and represents the unchangeable love that is present despite the hardships of conflicts between parents and children. Stained Words utilizes negative words that represent what others in Korean culture might think and represent an indirect communication written in both English and Korean. In the middle of the words, ink words are written in Korean language and ink is utilized to illustrate the strict Korean society and cultural norms that are unacceptable, while utilizing traditional often used in traditional Korean art.
My intention for these works is to provoke the viewers to ask questions and connect with cultural pressures. The message that the artworks are holding is to criticize parts of the Korean society that only value perfection and the impact of overwhelming stresses imposed on the students today.
The Veil is an enigmatic piece of cloth. It is an article of clothing worn by a woman as a means to cover her head. A custom that has been imposed and interpreted across cultures- with all its controversies. The veil is intended to protect a woman from being sexually objectified by the male gaze, one in which women are seen as objects of male desire. However, given the cultural screen with which the Western world views the veil, it morphs into a socio-religious and political narrative. From the perspective of the Western world, the veil functions as a divider between modernity and regressiveness, emancipation and repression. For some, the veil is the shackle that binds a woman to a gender-restricted role in society. By extension, the absence of the veil, in cultures where it is traditionally prevalent, has become a charged signal of sexuality, shame, and power - heretic self-expression.
In my work, I explore the concept of veiling from the perspective of identity and through my personal experience. My inspiration stemmed from John Berger’s quote in Ways of Seeing “men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at.” The veil is, for me, a safety blanket, granting the comfort of being able to look out yet not being able to be seen. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was required to wear a veil and adopted the customs. The veil was ubiquitous, accepted, and worn with pride as an affirmative symbol of community and religious identity. As a young woman expatriate in Saudi Arabia,
I have straddled both worlds - being veiled and unveiled. I hover between a confusing ambiguity of acceptance and non-acceptance, putting on and taking off. Having grown up in and walked the streets of Riyadh, I have experienced the perceived sense of safety provided by the veil. It provided a cocoon, shielding me from judgment, and fostering a sense of belonging and comfort in tradition. I often felt cloaked in societal sanction and protected from the constant and lingering male gaze.
I have been fascinated by the veil as an extension of cover - beyond its sartorial physicality. I have incorporated this duality into my artwork. I am also keenly interested in the fall of fabric - the folds, the textures, the form it takes, what it hides, and what it reveals. With my background in the Middle East, yet rooted in Indian culture, exploring the role of that fabric in the larger scheme of things provides an opportunity to explore and reveal insights across cultures, female identity, and the concept of the gaze within the context of the veil.
In my artworks I have explored the line between the veil as a symbol of oppression versus a symbol of protection, merging lines between tradition and sexuality - drawing parallels with the sense of comfort it provides as well as the strictures it imposes. Living in Chennai, a culture that does not require a veil, I still seldom ever leave the house without a jacket or a hoodie, even in the harsh South Indian heat. I find myself missing the abaya and substituting it with another form of protection/safety blanket. Growing up, I had never seen my mother leave the house without her abaya - it had been hardwired into me at a young age. In my painting The Matriarch in Cover I use my mother as a symbol of powerful tradition. Her unfaltering gaze has a strength that challenges the male gaze - she does not allow herself to be looked at, and instead, takes the powerful stance of staring back. I have explored this action of gazing back through other pieces in my exhibition. In the Girl With the Fringe I focus on that line between tradition and sexuality from a reversed perspective, the perspective without the veil, yet the girl - being unveiled - is unable to gaze back at the viewer.
My intention for this body of work is to offer a differing perspective for the viewer, one that embodies the multifaceted realities of a veil and fosters an appreciation for the paradoxical relationship between the modern woman willingly embracing the veil as well as the veil acting as the demise of individuality and identity.
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