27 Jan Experiences of Identity: Artist Statements
Detail of Mouths (Breaux’s Studio) © Priya Suresh Kambli
EXPERIENCES OF IDENTITY:
The following statements are about the artwork included in Experiences of Identity, an exhibition featuring the photographic work of Priya Suresh Kambli, Vikesh Kapoor, Emily Hanako Momohara, and Rafael Soldi at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center February 18 – April 12, 2022.
Priya Suresh Kambli
“Buttons for Eyes”
The title refers to my mother’s playfully nuanced question, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?”. A question laced with parental fear, which in hindsight echoes broader concerns. Not necessarily an individual’s inability to see some trivial object right in front of them, but our collective inability to see well enough to navigate in the world. As an artist whose work is bound in the personal and is irrefutably placed in the context of migrant narratives, the question in play in my work is how does the personal (or private) intersect with the political (or public)? Or simply, in the face of rising white suprematism in the United States, how do I document my lived personal experience, connecting my migrant story with the universal experience?
“Buttons For Eyes” is informed by the loss of my parents and my immigrant experience. Here I re-photograph my inherited family photographs, documents and objects carried by me to my new home in the American Midwest. These artifacts have acquired meaning from the effort of various hands to preserve them. But other meanings fade with the passage of time. Their original significance, for the sake of which someone saw fit to preserve them, is replaced gradually by the significance inherent in something which has been saved. As the caretaker of this archive, I seek to fortify the meaning in these documents by layering them, piercing them, reproducing them, and obscuring them.
See You at Home
My ongoing project See You at Home is a personal narrative that centers on family, memory and the myth and melancholy surrounding the American Dream.
My parents, Shailendra and Sarla Kapoor, immigrated from India in 1973, settling in a small town of 10,000 people in rural Pennsylvania. They are one of only a few immigrant families in the region. While they left India for a better life, the shift from a collectivist nation to an individualistic one led to isolation just as much as it led to freedom. As they grow old in Pennsylvania with my sister and I no longer living nearby, their isolation only becomes more apparent to me.
I began making work about my family during a trip to India with my father, fifteen years ago. I hadn’t visited since I was a child, and it was my father’s first time in sixteen years. It was important for both of us. Questions of family, identity and personal history were born out of that trip and continue to inform my work and this project today.
See You at Home explores the dichotomy of home and homeland, freedom and isolation, collectivism and individualism, through images I make of my parents’ current life in America imbued with memories of their past.
Emily Hanako Momohara
Fruits of Labor
Artist Emily Hanako Momohara investigates themes of immigration, identity, and labor within the framework of her own family narrative. Her great-grandparents left a famine entrenched Okinawa, Japan for Hawaii, USA. In Hawaii her great-grandparents worked on a plantation where they groomed and harvested pineapple fields. They toiled through the day, sometimes with a child wrapped to their backs, and eventually were able to build their own, small, three room house. It was within the confines of those three rooms where the family of 11 lived, grew, struggled and thrived.
Pineapples from the Hawaiian Islands were shipped to the mainland U.S. as luxury items, this exotic fruit is symbolic for the complex path her family has taken from immigrant labor to the consumers of luxury goods. Using imagery of agriculture and migration to unpack her personal and family story, Momohara allows us to critically reflect on the diverse experience of immigrants in America.
Entre Hermanos is an extension of a larger work titled Imagined Futures, in which I used ritual and photobooths as a form of confessional to heal the burden of imagined futures left behind by immigrants in our homes. Though the work in Imagined Futures addressed a deeply personal journey, I found that my experience with the haunting nature of our abandoned pasts and futures mirrored that of most immigrants. Departing from the strategies used in my Imagined Futures work, I invited male-identifying queer Latinx immigrants for a collective moment of discussion and reflection. In collaboration with social worker Joel Aguirre (also a legendary Latinx drag queen named La Gordis), we facilitated a private conversation around how each perceived their future as young people in their countries of origin, and how that perception may or may not have changed over time. We continued to reflect on the role of imagination for queer Latinx people, and how we could reimagine our pasts and futures today. It was an emotional evening, with varying levels of acceptance, forgiveness and grief, as well as stories of rebirth, transformation, and resilience. Each participant was then invited into a photo booth and asked to close their eyes and hold a shutter release while I walked them through a deep meditation. At any point during this quiet, intimate time, the subject was able to make a self portrait if they desired.