Virtual Residency Chronicles: Kinnari Saraiya
The beginning of March has marked the start of wendy.network’s first online residency. The virtual residency will culminate in the presentation of six creative projects, each different and exciting in their own way!
In this installment of the Virtual Residency Chronicles we take a moment to appreciate our six resident artists. We discuss their inspirations, their life, their practice and of course their project idea for the wendy.network residency.
Kinnari Saraiya, born in India, connects with her heritage in order to highlight post-colonial, contemporary imperialistic narratives. In her creative practice, Kinnari brings architectural structures drenched in historical violence to the fore and allows them to present their historical struggle.
Her project for the Virtual Residency will speak on themes of loss, progress and wreckage through the medium of an animated gif. The focus will be the juxtaposition of destruction and creation and their central role in contemporary society.
In the presentation of your project, you comment on the modern-day destruction of cultural identity and heritage. What are your feelings towards this statement? Praising it, criticising it, or acknowledging it?
I talk about the modern-day whitewashing of cultural identity and heritage quite a lot in my work and this rises from the conveniently adjusted story that is history. Look around you and I mean really look, and ask yourself who are you seeing celebrated in the landscape, ask why are you seeing them and who decided to put them in the landscape? This often exposes the power dynamic that dictates history, the powerful are heard and other silenced. For me, I grew up around colonial remnants in Bombay, not necessarily celebrated but existed. Some of these were worn down, very reflective of the time that has passed since independence. But as soon as I moved to London for further studies, I was suddenly surrounded by a different narrative of history. My history books in school told me that Winston Churchill was responsible for the genocide that was the Bengal Famine, but the British landscape reflected him to be the hero of the nation. Queen Victoria’s plinth remains intentionally empty in Bombay, but the Victoria Memorial in London remains a historic landmark. Realising that the colonial statues and what they represent can somehow become the sanitizers of truth has definitely questioned my memory surrounding the Empire.
How do you define Progress?
If something or someone is progressing, there’s a change happening, for better or for worse. I mean, we’re always in transition between things, between the past and the future so progress can be anything. We’ve come a long way from the struggles of colonialism but are wrapped into the struggles of post-colonialism, that’s progress I guess.
Did the last year have implications in your perspectives? How does that translate into your art?
Absolutely, I think all of last year has challenged the very foundation of the system. Not just the pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter movement. I presented my artwork ‘Victoria Terminus’ which removes Queen Victoria from her plinth in a space in early 2020, after which there was a rise in toppling statues around the world. In a recent interview I was asked if I somehow predicted the future and knew that toppling statues was the solution to rejecting existing historical narrative. Responding to that I said that of course I cannot predict the future, the fact that my work was exhibited before the mass movement against colonial sculptures shows that this manipulation of history has been happening for years. While all of this was happening in the wider world, in mine, I was in my final year and at the brim of graduation. So, while I was fully prepared to launch into the art world, as romanticised as this sounds, the art world as we know it was being challenged at its core. This shook the trajectory of artists that were graduating and let us clueless. But the good thing about being thrown in the deep end with no float is that the survival instinct kicks in and forces you to do better. I’ve learnt a lot in the last year, from how to begin being an artist to knowing what kind of artist I want to be. Also, the idea of adaptation, adapting to what’s left of the world in general and the art world in particular.
You have a special focus on the architectural landscape of India. How does your work shift from that physicality of architecture to the digital universe?
I think architecture in the digital realm offers unexpected ways for people to rethink what they casually walk past on a daily basis. As we get used to the landscape around us, we start to take for granted the ideas that certain architectural landmarks and monuments reflect and the histories they hide. I initially didn’t consider myself a digital artist, nor did I ever expect to be one but as the pandemic hit as well as graduating from a university that provided a studio, materials and equipment, forced me to work with what I possess and make work through it, and I’m glad it did. This is the theme of the residency – Adapt, Change and Cope so I guess I was doing exactly that.
How do you plan to adapt your artwork into the online format?
The work that I’m researching about at the moment through this residency is one that can have numerous possibilities. I’m engaging with the physicality of a chess board and the history of chess that surrounds it. Chess was born out of the Indian game called Chaturanga before the 600s AD. Through constant invasions and conquests in an attempt to expand land control, the game of Chaturanga spread to China during the Hans Dynasty and when the Muslims started their reign over Persia, they too adapted the game and finally spread it over Europe during the Moorish Conquest of Spain as Chess. The game embodies war & conquests in its play and in its history. Something that I’m keen on doing is involving different narratives in the 64 squares and curating an archive of histories that the pieces can walk through. In the next few days, I aim to put a call out for archival material from the Empire and am hoping that through the power of the internet, this will attract submissions from the corners of the colonized nations. I want to combine these various histories in the form of a gif, a medium of the modern world but a history of the past. This duality reflects the colonial nature of the history and the postcolonial nature of being today.
You came from India to England to study. Flipping your own context from the colonized country to the colonizer. Do you feel that this influenced your conceptual work? And how come?
I don’t think everyone in England is responsible for colonialism, the colonizers generation ended with independence. Same goes to Indians, I don’t think we’re colonised still but rather wounded from colonialism. I guess what I can’t come to terms with, and I talk about this in my work as well, is the ignorance towards this history. The one question I used to get from so many people while I was there was, but how can you speak English? I thought you were from India. Yes but I know English because the British made me learn it. So instead of the flipping that you ask about in the question, this big shift for me as I moved from India to England has been a reflection of the gaps in representation. It triggered much of the concepts in my works, from displacement to language, from symbolism to rejection.
You affirm you are investigating responses to colonial monuments. I’m wondering if you feel the internet culture is related to colonialism and if so in what way?
Something that came up in conversation during the sessions of this residency was the idea that an end of something is the start of something new. There’s never death, just transformation. This made me think about how we’re always in transition between the past and the future, and that the present is just a perfectly curated lie. So, in a way, what we call independence from colonial rule was never independence at all. How do you decolonise the british way of conditioning? How do you decolonise the mind? The ‘end’ of colonial rule, marked a different type of control from the first world, called globalisation. The internet has been a key factor in driving globalisation and with that, there was an instant divide between the haves and the have nots. Again, this is dictated by the power structures of the first world versus the third.
Why a GiF?
Everything is in a state of restless change, the present is a perfectly curated illusion. A gif animation is where the past dissolves in the present, so the future can become an open question. A gif loops endlessly, blurring the border between start and finish, hence blurring the metaphorical boundary between the past and the future. Everything is connected and we are always in transition between the past and the future, looping endlessly.
Why did you choose the wendy.network residency?
What attracted me to the residency with wendy network was the fact that they had made it very clear that they respect the time of the artists, were paying them appropriately and also provided support in every way. I think just appreciating an artist’s efforts, as emerging as they are, is something we don’t see often. I think being able to meet with incredible artists through this residency that could potentially spark some collaboration is something I am looking forward to.
What are your expectations for the virtual residency?
Dialogue and conversation. I’m not walking in this with only the expectation of creating a new piece of work but also the expectation of connecting, listening, talking, sharing and contributing. So, we have been meeting over zoom every day to share perspectives on certain ideas emerging from each other’s practices, something that I haven’t done as much since the pandemic. So yeah, I’m expecting a month of conversations.
What do you expect as a result of the collaboration with 5 others artists?
I’m not expecting something concrete like a physical collaboration, although if this happens I’d be happy but I’m expecting us to influence each other through our diverse perspectives. We have a broad range of artistic practices and materials that can hopefully come together in unexpected ways to create something beautiful.
For more details about Kinnari’s work, the virtual residency, our guest faculty and the other five artists in residence, stay tuned on the wendy.network!