Jhaveri Contemporary is delighted to present You migrate, we migrate, you displace, we displace, an exhibition that brings together, for the first time, work by Hardeep Pandhal and Jagdeep Raina. As the title suggests, the show examines the migrant experience emphasizing its complexity and reliance on reinvention.
Using riots of colour and an array of media, both artists explore the fantasies and fictions constituent in the departure and arrival of dislocated communities. This interest in mythmaking is not at the exclusion of a sensitivity and interest in lived realities. While equally emotive and both relating the past to the present, each artist deploys a different strategy: Pandhal's bold parody of British colonial culture is a rowdy counterpart to Raina's nostalgic documentation of Bhangra music.
The musical genre, born of migrant labourers in Britain, is the basis of Raina's series of layered and often collaged paintings. Adopting the appearance of a childhood poster, replete with love-hearts and bubble writing, is Raina's Never Say Goodbye, 2015. Set against a chalky pink washed background are the portraits of singers. Like sticker book collectables, they're captured shoulders up in rectangular frames and arranged in a grid. It's an image recognizable as a hall of fame that memorializes the voices of this acoustic culture that had a political function. Preciously the music created a space for lyrics that rallied for social ideals like anti-racist futures, and spurred a club scene that, as Raina explains, 'became a place where external markers such as race, sexuality, and gender could be exceeded.'
Raina excavates his singers and their music from a hybrid archival process. His research takes him into personal collections and those publicly owned. At times he faithfully documents these records picturing piles of cassettes as in Arora Archive, 2015. And by scouring Southall Black Sisters archive to the musical libraries of research scholars through documentary films and oral history, he pieces together a fragmented heritage. The process and resulting works that merge poetry, painting, animation, and phulkari embroidery speaks to the remix style of Bhangra as much as it does to the identity remix that's seemingly a requisite condition of migration.
Madhur's Phulkari, 2021, an animated film overlaid with a recording of Raina's poetry, uses the phulkari textile tradition native to Punjab to access the experience of displacement and the associated violence. The patterning of a phulkari haunts the film as darkness befalls Raina's characters drawn in his signature rudimentary style. A couple, representing the voracious textile collectors Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, weep black tears while other figures are submerged by aggressive scrawls and vanish into a thick black screen. Spliced with real-life scenes of a woman unpacking a laying out a textile, the film is a requiem for a craft industry extinguished following India's Partition.
Hardeep Pandhal tackles the region's history with satire. His cut-out caricature of Mother India is a rebellious yet playful dig at the symbolic matriarch. Neon pink doodles decorate her: breasts adorn her sari and messy makeup covers her face. There's a similar defacing of clothing in The Lord Tebbit Series, 2019. Suspended in a circle are multiple woolen cricket jumpers. Each one is embroidered with a ghoulish face or body parts. These monstrous depictions leak: their eyes ooze lengths of wool and strands spew from their mouths. The gory and ghastliness recalls the odious 'cricket test' pioneered by Lord Tebbit in the 1990s. This empirical 'formula' evaluated an immigrant citizen's acculturation and loyalty to England by measuring their commitment to English cricket teams.
Peeping through this constellation of defaced sportswear is a suite of new drawings, Pandhal exercises his acerbic pen. A monstrous world manifests where faces screech and colours melt and slip off from the paper's surface. Inspired by the Anglo-Indian ghost stories of Bithia Mary Croker that critiqued colonial attitudes and empathized with its subjects, Pandhal stylises a 'Weird Punjabi Gothic'. For him, it's a productive genre that revolves 'around the miasmic forces of "unsettlement'" caused by acculturation.' Pandhal, like Raina, draws on and reactivates the past in a bid to penetrate and articulate the present.
Press release courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary.
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