The terraced streets of Glasgow: driving past, 2016 Mixed media on paper 26″ X 40″
COOPER COLE artist Jagdeep Raina has an interdisciplinary practice that spans drawing, textiles, writing, and, more recently, video animation, photography and ceramics. This year, he was one of the recipients of the 2020 Sobey Art Award for Ontario and was going to have a solo presentation at Frieze New York this May. We recently spoke to Jagdeep about the new work he made for Frieze New York. These drawings explore the phenomenon of Bhangra club culture during the late 1980s in the UK, Canada, and the US. Bhangra– music that remixed traditional Punjabi folk with hip hop and reggae– also represented a cultural fracturing of younger generations away from their immigrant communities. Completed while Jagdeep was living in England during Brexit vote, this work also speaks to the crisis of gentrification and nationalism altering the way these same communities grapple with day to day life. The artist uses the medium of drawing as a way of exploring themes of historical memory through archival material. For more information about Jagdeep Raina, please visit our website. To stand there and smile, 2016 Mixed media on paper 22″ X 30″
Attentions mates! Why is our paki nationality not an outdated concept?, 2017 Mixed media on paper 22″ X 30″
The guitar solemnly strung, and life on the Broadway went on, 2016 Mixed media on paper 22″ X 30″ Factory grind, 2016 Mixed media 26″ X 40″
A tangible expression (Part 2), 2017 Mixed media on paper 19″ X 25″
Could you tell us a bit about these new drawings you made for Frieze New York? These works on paper investigate an ongoing relationship I have with house music, specifically Bhangra music from the late 1970s, early 1980s and early 1990s. Bhangra—a form of Punjabi folk mixed with hip hop and reggae— was created by working class South Asian Migrant labourers who worked in the industrial factories of Britain, specifically Birmingham and the outskirts of London. I was inspired by how this music left Britain, and has travelled all across the globe to Canada, the United States, and even back to the Global South.
What made you become interested in Bhangra club culture in the 1980s? I’ve always been interested in clubs as being a space where people can strip themselves of the external markers of identity: gender, race, age, class, sexuality as a way of collective desire and self-pride. Bhangra is a form of music that I was always influenced by, especially looking at the history of the music and the relationship I had with it growing up. As I began studying the origins of this music, I never knew that it had such a political, and radical history. I was coming across anti-colonial, anti-racist, and feminist song lyrics like Kala Preet, Nirmal and Mohinder Kaur Bhamra and discovering the work of queer film-makers and DJ’s like Pratibha Parmar and DJ Rekha who were documenting Bhangra in their work by juxtaposing the self-affirmation that came with dancing to Bhangra music against histories of colonial and imperial carnage. I was also having conversations with people who lived through these moments- telling me that Bhangra was also a way to rebel against rigid and constraining ways of upbringing that was dominated by fundamentalism and a violent holding onto tradition. It was using and utilizing the archive that made me come across these powerful histories. I’ve also always been inspired by this piece of writing I came across by the DJ Honey Dijon:
“The politics of today are defined by gentrification which is also the biggest single obstacle for nightlife. Cities can become places where people only consume and do not create. Artists are pushed out to make room for high-rise apartments built for people with corporate jobs. They don’t want noise, they don’t want difference. There is no space for those who do not fit a prescribed agenda. And yet it is always the disenfranchised who fuel culture five years later.”
Nightlife is not just a scene for entertainment. Clubs are intersectional spaces free from the repression and struggles of everyday life. Or at least should be. Venues, promoters, DJs, and the people who come to dance— they need to stand against gentrification. Clubs should not just be places of monetary transaction. Clubs can bring people together of diverse sexual orientations, ethnicities, and backgrounds in ways that government never can. Being a DJ is a privilege; we allow people to connect and escape. The continued existence of nightlife is vital for our culture: in these times of division, it creates safe places for people to convene without fear.
What is your process for determining the content of your drawings? Are some from life or are they all from memory? A lot of these drawings use archival material as a reference point, and slowly morph into memory, mark making, textured washes, and experimental writing: text phrases that I always lay out on top of the drawings.
Which archives do you reference? To study the historical development of Bhangra music, I looked at documentaries, photographs, oral history interviews, album covers, and things like that. Personal archives are also important. For this body of work, I drew inspiration from conversations I had with people from the South Asian diaspora who came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as photographers and film-makers who were documenting the Bhangra music scene in Britain during the 1980s.
Visually, I was looking at film stills from news documentaries from the 1980s and early 1990s, the filmic work of Gurinder Chadha and Pratibha Parmar, the photographs of David Corio, and photographs of family and friends. I also did a two-hour interview with a film director when I lived in London, and drew from the audio I recorded with the film director.
You made some of this work while living in England in 2016, around the time of the Brexit vote. Did this affect your work? Brexit had a huge impact on my work. It was devastating and powerful being in England during the summer of 2016. It was the first time where I stopped romanticizing and homogenizing what a diasporic community looked like. I realize that every community is flawed, including the ones I come from.
Dismantling utopian ideas of what we want a community to look like is really important to me. I always try to operate from a place of being self-critical as well. I’m inspired by the writings of Adrian Piper, Stuart Hall and the work of Felix Gonzalez Torres who have helped me realize the importance of detaching from the social and standing outside of a community in order to learn and see more deeply. When I dismantle and tease apart notions of a fixed diasporic communal identity, I realize that the word “community” is also a double-edged sword: it is something that is constructed and not innate, and the very definition is exclusionary.
Your lines are so strong, yet suggest a lot of movement. How does your visual language relate to what you are drawing? Drawing is always at the core of my practice as an artist. While I am finding myself immersed in textiles, and now slowly photography, video, and film, drawing will always be at the core of my work to help me translate and develop my ideas through a visual medium. Drawing has helped me create an experimental writing-based practice as well. What has made drawing so important for me is that it has always unified all the threads of my work, without hierarchy. The quiet surface of paper and now the quiet surface of thread, fabric, and 16 and 35mm film echoes the fragility of the documents I work from. I’ve also always seen how easy drawing can be to transport: they be rolled up, tied together with string or an elastic band, and tucked lightly underneath my arm to travel where they need to go. Drawing has also always been an anchoring point for me to push myself in collage and writing: whether it’s incorporating text onto my work or collaging photographic image and archival material onto my drawings.
There are a few drawings in this series that are cityscapes. They appear to depict the same place; can you say a bit about these? I’m interested in slowing down and creating movements of pause and contemplation in my work… the building of terraced houses, industrial factories, run down clubs and venues are a type of mark, a ghost or a soft presence of bodies and communities that cater together once. I’m becoming really inspired by the thought of creating cityscapes through the medium of video and film as well. That is my next skill set I want to build as an artist. ¹ Honey Dijon On nightlife. Art Forum, Summer 2017.
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