thotseat : sahej rahal
23 november 2017
Dry Salvages (2017)
S: What do you feel we as a community of South Asian artists need to discuss more critically?
SR: So much! The only thing I guess we can do is be critical of ourselves as well. There’s a good number of South Asian artists who are showing their work etc but we do need to be critical of ourselves in terms of the language we create and how our works can speak to each other in a continuum - which I don’t think is happening.
S: What is your experience of the work of Non-Resident Indian artists? How does it resonate, if at all?
SR: From a personal point of view, I think of identity as a construct. A lived construct. It’s literally history, right? The history of the diaspora, the history of colonialism, the history of how our bodies have been looked at or interacted with. I wouldn’t be able to say there's a pattern where people from a certain place would navigate certain social structures even though they would be different from person to person. Though that’s beautiful as well.
S: I understand that Barracadia (2017) is migrating to Birmingham in February 2018. What is your experience of Birmingham in terms of representation of minority discourse and celebrating minority artists to date?
SR: Birmingham, Glasgow and Nottingham have this almost secret history that led or contributed to The Enlightenment. A lot of their narratives find their way in the grimoire I wrote [for Barracadia] and also in the rest of the work - though it’s not really important that everyone catches on to these references.
There’s this absurd art show that’s pretending to be a nation - how do we make sense of that?
S: What is your expectation of Birmingham and/or audiences within Birmingham who come to view the work?
SR: Theres a certain kind of shared language and set of reference points that I would have with people who are brown, so I’d be able to speak to those people in a way that I wouldn’t get to with people who don’t have those references.
But the whole idea isn’t to convey some kind of message. It’s more about how we construct meaning or how we construct language. So the more references the better and the more ways of engaging.
S: What about your experience of India as a place/setting inspires your work and how much does it affect it?
SR: This is what Bombay is like - a kind of bricolage. Even if you just think about it architecturally, you have colonial/Victorian architecture, then you have this kind of glossy art deco, still matted with dust - then you have your post modern glass and chrome. All layered on top of one another - it feels like it was constructed last night.
There’s also larger ways of beinghere, where you see a bit more of a marked difference in terms of identity, for example.
There’s a colonial law that has come back in place - Article 377 which bans unnatural sex or whatever that means. A blowjob can be unnatural sex, right? Who’s to talk about what’s unnatural? My work is reflective of ideas that come from this kind of colonial hangover - even Neo-Colonial-Imperialism that the country’s inflicting on itself.
But then being here just on an every day level also feels like there’s this kind of collapse of being. I’ve been thinking about this split of the self and the other - the binary of the mind and the body split. When you look at Eastern thought, you don’t have this split. Both of these places are almost instant and logic and embodied simultaneously as are our social identities. We embody all of our selves at the same time in a very frivolous way. The self is at ease when it’s frivolous with itself.
Coming back [to India] feels like that. I can be frivolous with the way I move through languages - through Hindi and Punjabi and Marathi at the same time. And English.
Bombay also being it’s kind of own madness adds to that.
S: That’s a madness that works in real time. The madness of animals on the road, of the driving system etc. Yet, anything other than that in places such as India is frivolous. I feel that there’s a sense of that that might inform the way Barracadia works as a world, or non-world.
SR: Yes, it is a non-world - still kind of becoming itself. That’s how I’m thinking about protestas well - being is becomingand vice versa.
Sahej Rahal in Conversation with Ainslie Roddick - Barricadia (2017)