Article by Nazish Chunara
I am interested in telling stories of South Asian diasporic histories through the act of drawing, through accessing archival materials and doing oral history work. I decided to pursue art seriously near the end of high school, and studied it in both undergraduate and graduate school.
What archived materials are you utilizing? Are they from a personal archive or public?
I have utilized all kinds of archival materials: some are personal and some are historical or belonging to public collections. When I draw from public collections I always seek to get permission: and I have worked with archives like the Vancouver Public Library and city of Vancouver archives, the Toronto public library archives, the Southall Black Sisters archives, archives of private scholars and researchers, and finally my own archival photographs as well.
My family, friends, fellow artists, and community activists inspire me.
They inspire me through sharing their stories with me. I do a lot of oral history work and collect testimonials to better understand disaporic history, identity politics, stories of immigration, arrival, and settlement. A pivotal moment for me was joining the 1947 partition archive as a volunteer to collect oral histories of survivors who lived through this cataclysmic event, and a recent project that’s inspired me is collecting stories of immigrant Punjabi women and their experiences.
The one particular moment that stood out from unearthing the Punjabi Diaspora is the longevity of these stories, and just how old and rich these diasporic histories are. These stories are over a century old, and these communities have been existing in the Americas since the end of the 19th century.
These are three women in my family, and the photograph was taken in the Spring of 2016. Seeing the sweetness and humility that was emerging out of the photograph and the need to do seva (selfless service) without expecting anything in return.
This drawing was inspired by two young Sikh, Punjabi men. They sit on the stoop of an apartment building. The two men are clutching plates of food, provided by the Punjabi Grocery and Deli, a 24/7 bodega in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, which is beside the apartment building. I’m inspired by the Punjabi Grocery and Deli, for it acts as a sense of home for young, Punjabi Sikhs and more broadly, everyone belonging to the South Asian diaspora. The bodega has continued to be elevated to the same prominence as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park, but without any of its permanence.
This drawing was inspired by a film still from a documentary that was shot in London, United Kingdom in 1988. This drawing is a scene of three people in the year 1988, as they stand in a crowded summer day in Piccadilly Circus. The people-ranging from a caucasian white male, A young Sikh man donning a turban and a beard, and a young Bengali woman- present a cosmopolitan, post-nationalist, post-thatcher, diverse Britain. In an era of Trump, Brexit, and the rise of Racism, Nationalism, and Fascism, the text in this drawing, carved out behind the figures in the Piccadilly lights, acts as a warning to reveal that time does not move in a linear, straight way but it is truly cyclical. It makes this drawing, derived from a film-still in 1988, present the past that has become ominously futuristic.
You fucking terrorist was a drawing that depicted a dilapidated brick wall, which is part of the structure of the small Sikh temple in Guelph, Ontario. Over the years, racist and violent graffiti have been sprawled onto the building, as a sign in which marginalized communities continue to experience hatred and bigotry in small, subtle ways.
The Rex Theatre was a cinema in Vancouver in the 1910s and 1920s, in which South Asians donning turbans and beards, as well as East Asians, and Indigenous people were banned from entering.
What literature or podcasts do you recommend?
My favourite book of all time is A Fine Balance by Robinson Mistry… the literature list is long and varied.. but that book always comes to mind. My favourite podcast currently is: namelesscollectivepodcast .
I don’t currently have a studio space , but I plan on working with film stills from two independent British films: A Fearful Silence from 1986 and Acting our Age from 1992, which explore themes of domestic abuse and ageism in South Asian communities. I want to one day also create my own database of images through acquiring a digital camera for documentation and travel across the Americas and England to conduct oral history work where I hope to bring specificity to issues affecting the diaspora that are coated in layers of amnesia, including Anti-Blackness, class and caste-ism, the taboo of queerness and mental health. I am realizing that notions of the South Asian diaspora and the homogeneity of community can be torn apart and broken by external issues affecting Kashmiri and Punjabi Sikhs, but also by internal prejudices. This equalizing experience is a reminder to me as an artist that I should also critique my community from a place of love, to strive to make solidarity intersectional as an artist, and to point the finger at myself and my own flaws, just as much as others. This is where I hope the future of the work will go.
The art scene in Canada is exciting and seems to be growing and growing, in particular places like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. The best thing I recommend is getting the Seesaw or Artforum app which has a list of galleries and museums in each of these cities- as well as going to Artforum.com and visiting the city guide to see the shows and exhibitions that are up in museums and galleries!
I am going to be in a group show at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) museum in Providence, Rhode Island, and I was in a group show at Humber Galleries in Toronto, Ontario which finished up in November.
I finished my MFA degree in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and would like to also pursue a second Master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a specialization in archives and records management as a part time student, so that I can continue to make my art work! 🙂 I want to be a librarian, archivist, and an artist.
For more information about Jagdeep Raina please contact the gallery: