Having left her home country of India when she was 14 to come to Queens, New York, Jaishri Abichandani knows what it means to reconcile different worlds. She has analyzed her relationship to those worlds through photography, her first medium, by using herself as a subject and then expanding to her family and immediate circle of friends who share her nomadic existence. In Reconciliations, an ongoing series of appropriated images of cities and landscapes culled from the Internet and photoshopped together, Abichandani has transferred the intimacy of her private life and the idiosyncrasies of her vision to the public realm of geopolitics.
Her recent body of work taps into the complex affinities between sites separated by physical distance yet ideologically interdependent. Abichandani juxtaposes urban and natural topographies whose boundaries prove more politically porous and than they might initially seem: shorelines and mountains with cities sandwiched in between (LimaSantiago) conceal land and mineral rights fought over during the War of the Pacific (1889-1893), or mushrooming skyscrapers cluster around monuments glorifying the state (HavanaPyongyang). Other images feature familiar architectural and geological features like the Table Mountains and the Sydney Opera House (CapeTownSydney), Marine Drive and the London Eye Ferris wheel (MumbaiLondon), or the hills of Ramallah and the Temple Mount (RamallahJerusalem). If we lacked the foreknowledge of these cities’ volatile histories that the titles of the artworks suggest, the images would remain quite abstract—archaeological layers of living civilizations encroaching upon each other and condensed as if shot from a telephoto lens. For instance, based on the anti-U.S. trade pact signed by Ivo Morales, Hugo Chávez, and Fidel Castro, the capitals of Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba have become one in LaPazCaracasHavana, while the TehranKarachi alliance derives from the flight of war refugees leaving Iran for Pakistan—contraband images supplied to the artist by friends on location. An image close to the artist’s heart is WilletsPointDharavi. Bound by a keen sense of entrepreneurship emerging from economic necessity these two slums in Queens and Mumbai give new meaning to the wrongs perpetrated by urban planning and immigration policies. Far from suggesting that her images are marriages made in heaven, Abichandani teases us and tests our knowledge of history and current events. Indeed, the more we are seduced by her advertisement-shiny images as dream cities or avatars of an idealized global marketplace, the more startling is our recognition of colonial oppression or economic and ideological tensions brewing underneath her polished surfaces.
Yet other pictures provide glimpses of the artist’s longing for what might be realized in the new world order, despite its homogenizing effects. Reconciliations is more than a utopic fantasy of Jerusalem sharing land with Ramallah, New York and Tokyo floating in the same harbor, or Lima breathing the same mountain air as Santiago. It is a wryly diplomatic message of hope and peace delivered by an artist whose personal and professional trajectories have compelled her to interrogate but ultimately embrace the notion of international unity. Taken at face value, some of the images convey a calm that seems palpable, tangible, although at present an illusion. The images could be the blueprint for a future within reach. Abichandani, forever an optimist, seems to be saying that these urban amalgams are within the realm of possibility. She reminds us that pockets of reconciliation exist in the most unlikely places.
Born in Bombay, India, Jaishri Abichandani immigrated to New York City in 1984. She received her Master of Visual Arts Degree from Goldsmiths College, University of London and has continued to intertwine art and activism in her career. Abichandani has shown her work internationally in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean as well as Mérida, New Delhi, Mumbai, Cape Town, Zurich, Utrecht, Glasgow and London. She has also curated a number of exhibitions at the Queens Museum of Art and Exit Art and is the founding director of the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC), New York and Asian Women’s Creative Collective, London.
The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts
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