Text created to accompany Khush Nubian’s exhibition at Two Queens, Leicester, titled ‘It’s not me, it’s you’. the exhibition will be on view from between 30/07/16 to 13/08/16
Bombay is a city built by foreigners upon reclaimed land; I, who had been away so long that I almost qualified for the title, was gripped by the conviction that I, too, had a city and a history to reclaim.
It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge – which gives rise to profound uncertainties – that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost: that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, lndias of the mind.
Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands
As one enters the exhibition and glances at the installation the mind wanders frantically as one attempts to understand the possible use of these objects. The juxtapositions of shapes and colours form a language that seems to have been lost from memory but uncovered by a shamanistically conjured trance. After a while, as the eyes settle on the colour and shape, the heart is reassured that the use of these objects is of no significance and instead as Rushdie suggests: they are fictions and not actual objects, from an imaginary place beyond one’s reach but within a constructed memory.
For this exhibition Khush Nubian explores the events that make her who she is and that have guided her artistic practice in recent years. The exhibition is a departure from the first and second dimension into the third where Khush explores the journey of motif through time and space, its authenticity, and in doing so, her sense of self and of cultural authenticity.
So, should I let you in on what the objects in the installation represent? Maybe later. In the meantime, let’s consider the events that brought us to this point in time.
After completing an MA in Fine Art at De Montfort University in 2012, Khush started to explore the unique salad bowl of culture that is Leicester, the city where she was born. This diverse polycultural conurbation has imported and consumed produce from myriad far-off places in such large quantities that they seem more abundant here than their places of origin. Shops abound with nonsensical, “Export Quality” riches wrapped in scripts unfamiliar to all but the minority that appreciate them.
Khush has thrived amongst this multiplicity of cultures and has created works from a uniquely Leicester perspective that speak from a pluralist heart.
In 2014 she was selected for an artist residency at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, India, where she was immersed in the unique and chaotic culture of urban India.
This experience produced a profound paradigm shift that brought into sharp focus her sense of self and led to the electrifying multi-media exhibition titled ‘Before There After’ (2015). The installation featured sound, video, digital images and cryptically constructed collages of textiles bought locally in Vadodara whilst on the residency.
Amongst the bright fabric and paper was the bandhani design which can be considered a motif of Indian culture. However, as Khush began to uncover the origin of bandhani, she found herself at odds with the original reference point to the design, instead feeling a stronger connection to the paper and fabric bought at a market stall in Vadodara and equally abundant in shops back home in Leicester’s Belgrave Road: digitally printed versions that mimicked the hand-produced, tie-dye technique. In comparison to the traditional bandhani, the motif on the fabric that she had bought was visually simplified and performed differently: a signifier rather than a faithful reproduction.
The realisation of this difference between bandhani’s origin as an authentic cultural asset and the reality of its contemporary form led her to consider her own association to Indian culture and claim to Indian heritage.
Khush has researched the objects and tools connected to the bandhani technique and explored their association within the cultural construct of ‘Indianness’. This has led her to deconstruct the motif in the context of authenticity and cultural drift. The objects that make up the installation are defunct remnants of a craft that has been lost in translation. They are deconstructed and arranged as a foreign and dysfunctional family at odds with their own sense of cultural worth.
For me the work portrays the uniquely difficult position second-generation artists, offspring of immigrants, are placed in: are we understood for a reality and motherland not known to us or for who we are in the here and now? We are eternally ‘other’ wherever we go, whether here or “back home”. I also see the objects building on the polemic concerned with the objectification and fetishisation of cultural assets in a gallery context.
The need for cultural markers, monikers and motifs can outweigh the need for authenticity. As Khush remarks: “It connects to my sense of identity and what lots of people have said throughout my life: You’re not really Indian… You’re not that kind of Indian…” This leads her to question her authenticity in any cultural context, but especially in an Indian one, as she questions, “What kind of Indian do they mean? What kind of Indian am I?”