I am a lens-based artist and researcher. I have only recently begun to think of my work as a practice and “being” an artist is something I am currently understanding while practicing this practice.
My artist statement would probably have the following keywords:
“ algorithms, animism, crafts, minecraft, bollywood, dreams, sleep, folklore, history, sci-fi, alternate realities, decolonization, resistance, world-building, reshaping, indigenous futurism, climate crisis...list is updating and evolving.”
I am influenced by varying dimensions of thought, form and discipline, these kaleidoscopic interests stem from my roots as an indigenous woman.
I will not speak about my identity, I choose to speak nearby. To speak nearby instead of speaking about is my attempt to acknowledge and trace how my identity shapes my visual arts practice. To simply speak about identity would, to push the ideation, mean putting up my identity as an object for display. But I do not want it to be so. I speak nearby to avoid the objectification of my identity. I never capture my identity directly. I do not point the lens at my identity, I focus it nearby.
On the concept of the nearby
In claiming my visual arts practice as a lens-based practice, I consider the lens as a technical and conceptual apparatus. The lens—an optical device in the literal sense—is a tool I use to produce visual images. At a conceptual level, I also think of the lens as a metaphor. This figurative lens facilitates looking relations. Looking relations are the “processes of looking” determined by “history, tradition, power hierarchies, and economies” (Kaplan, 1997, p.4). This lens creates relations between the one gazing through the lens, and the one being gazed at.
For me, the lens is an appendage for controlling and dictating meaning. This is how I engage with the lens and my lens-based work, with absolute care for the looking relations it produces. Because it is inescapable, I will now elaborate on what I think my figurative lens is.
Multiple meanings, multiple I’s are what I argue as my gaze and my gazing back at this figurative lens. This is a conceptual reach, but I try to think of my practice around the possibility of multiplicity.
By ‘multiple-I’s,’ I mean a specific looking process established by artist Trinh T Minh-ha. As Trinh undertook ethnographic filmmaking in rural Senegal with her documentary, Re-assemblage (1982), she began her practice of anti-ethnography by asserting her philosophy of “multiple I’s.”
Trinh’s film is a montage of rural Senegalese life. Scenes omits diegetic sound. Mid-way, Trinh’s voice wonders, “What is the film about? My friends ask.” She then narrates tangential statements about herself, her friends, the camera, semiotics, and so on. She asserts that this process is meant to not “speak about but to speak nearby” (Kaplan, 1997, p. 201) Her speaking nearby is a process of verbal reflections. She deliberately refuses to make a movie that is about controlling what is seen.
She confuses the viewer. This process asserts her philosophy of moving the figurative lens towards “the notion of multiple “I’s” confronting “’multiple I’s’ in the Other.” (Trinh 1989, p 146) Trinh’s work views the multiplicities of herself and the subjects of her gaze, all as multiple I’s.
Trinh ultimately asserts that any work on identity should, at best, try to always speak nearby. Trinh is not concerned with giving the viewer access to a film-viewing that speaks about rural Senegal. Trinh’s voice speaks nearby to reject stringent relations of looking. This brings me to my artistic practice. My figurative lens comes from the multiple I’s that I am. In handling my identity as a subject for my practice, I know that this lens depicts what is nearby, near myself. And that is much closer to the truth of my practice than assertions of a looking regime that claims to “speak about” my identity.
Minh-ha, T. T. (1982) Reassemblage.
Minh-ha, T. T. (1989) Woman, Native, Other. Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. New York and London: Routledge.
Kaplan, E. (1997) Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze. New York: Routledge.