Archive: Issue No. 84, August 2004

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.
EDITIONS FOR ARTTHROB EDITIONS FOR ARTTHROB    |    5 Years of Artthrob    |    About    |    Contact    |    Archive    |    Subscribe    |    SEARCH   

Bani Abidi

Bani Abidi
'Mangoes', 2001
Video Still

Home: a place in the making
by Gabi Ngcobo

Curated by Zayd Minty, 'A Place Called Home' features multi media installations and web-based projects by contemporary artists from the South Asian diaspora, and this initiative made its presence felt as much in the NSA Gallery as in the city of Durban. Minty is a curator and cultural producer born in Durban, now living in Cape Town where he is very involved in the cultural life of the city. 'A Place Called Home' originated from Minty's 'own sense of self and my place in the globe' and has taken him 10 years to develop.

In the accompanying catalogue, Minty expresses hopes that the exhibition will serve as a 'springboard for a multitude of discussions about identity and transformation' for South African audiences, 'especially those of South Asian/ Indian descent'.

In this context, the term 'South Asian Diaspora' is largely used as a framing device, a resource and a point of creating creative spaces within an open-ended framework. In a South African context, the show comes at a time when we are reflecting on our first decade of democracy, looking at how far we have come in addressing the racial and ethnic divisions that plague our country. In the Durban/KwaZulu Natal context, where a large concentration of 'Indians' resides, the emergence of communication barriers has been threatening for some time.

The artists featured in this show are largely engaged in 'radical art practices', mostly in the form of collectives and groundbreaking projects. Omar Badsha (South Africa) was, for example, instrumental in establishing Afrapix, the now legendary independent photographic agency and collective which played a leading role in shaping the social documentary photography tradition and documenting the popular struggle of the 80s in South Africa.

Badsha's contribution is a series of photographs and an essay entitled The Road to Tadkoshwa. His journey starts at 7 Douglas Lane, Durban in March 1919, where his grandmother and her two children moved after a long sea journey from her parent's town of Tadkoshwa; a place to which only fragile links now remain.

Badsha's journey to his 'roots' is one of the distinct points which highlights the difference between artists from different generations. While young artist Zen Marie seems far removed from this sort of history, Badsha places the notion of 'home' in the connections between the two places. Whilst Marie's product Method and Order is based in the imagination and fantasy of a South African male of Asian descent, Badsha's is based on memory and his 'own African identity'.

For Chila Kumari Burman (UK), born in Liverpool to an immigrant Hindu family, 'home' is 'everywhere...'. She has never called herself English and admits that her social upbringing, protected from the white community, 'helps sort out who I am�an Indian... '. Chila was part of a militant vanguard that set out to gain full participation in the British cultural life on their own terms.

In the Fly Girl series, Chila draws on feminist critical theory where identity is seen as multiple and even self-contradictory. Here, Chila casts herself as a host of personae, taking on roles and images that she later disputes by claiming they do not reflect who she is.

Largely visual and performative, her work always includes her own body in a humorous and engaging way. Her explorations of pop culture issues emphasise the politics which were lost to 'Bollywood'; a term invented in Britain, inextricably linked to exoticising the 'Indian', making it cool to be 'Indian' in England these days.

Also exploring her race and gender is Prema Muthy, who was a core part of a dynamic collective of new media artists 'Fakeshop', and a key member of the New York-based South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC). Her web-based project Bindi Girl 'questions the growing relationship with distance and tele-erotics as a new form of tourism'. Bindi Girl 'looks at how the absence of debate about questions of sex and race limits our understanding of how particular forms of cultural identity arise and are taken up in particular situations'.

In her virtual biography, Bindi, 'the Goddess/Whore archetype' is '�meditating upon the question of life� At first I thought technology will save me, arm me with my weapons. Then I turned to religion. But both have let me down. They continue to keep me confined to my "proper" place'.

'I wonder where safety is? Who is the master and who is the servant? What is the best strategy for survival in a hostile environment�?'. Like Bindi's virtual biography, this statement by Ansuman Biswas (India/UK) highlights complex socio-political questions of existence in a world where capitalism, science, exploitation, neo-colonisation and technology reign.

Biswas's offering, a video performance titled for daws to peck at, was conceived during a residency at the National Institute of Medical Research. Here he came across a 'pin-up' of a zebrafish which, in the last century, was 'rescued' from the brink of extinction by scientists for use in experiments. Biswa makes reference to his own roots in the Ganges basin, natural home to the zebrafish, and tells a 'familiar story of the plight of the colonised; rescued into slavery� out of the frying pan into democracy'.

In Usha Seejarim's (South Africa) work, the 'roti' becomes a highly political symbol representing different South Asian communities in South Africa, where the term Roti can be a derogatory term used amongst Indians. Bani Abidi's (Pakistan/USA) video project Mangoes shows two women eating mangoes and reminiscing about family and home. Using the wide variety of mangoes from India and Pakistan as metaphor, this work highlights the uneasy relationship between the two countries since independence in 1946.

In contrast, Moti Roti (Trinidad/Pakistan/UK), a London-based artists' organisation, is not interested in the polarised and mythical 'east/west' divide, but in making work about the complexities and contradictions of the current times. Fresh Asian, by Ali Zaidi engages with the idea of seeing and being seen, masking and masking.

The work features 80 portraits of Asian faces morphed to create a perfect idealised face, 'eerie, beautiful, asexual - all at once'. These are flanked by self-portraits taken by the subjects, representing themselves in a way of their choice. The morphed portrait is neither here nor there but 'elsewhere' and therefore seductive, but it also represents a non-transformative space and resistance to ongoing change.

In engaging with debatable notions of 'Home' and the 'Diaspora', 'A Place Called Home' has been successful in highlighting the urgency to engage in dialogues about identity, dislocation and relocations. By hosting creatively constructive shows that bring us closer to our goal of a non-racial democratic society, the NSA Gallery is continuing to open up a world of ideas which promises a much brighter future for the Durban artistic community. Here is a space for progressive visions. Keep your eyes on it!

June 15 - July 11