5 South Asian artists who're tackling culture, politics, gender and nostalgia Advertisement

5 South Asian artists who’re tackling culture, politics, gender and nostalgia

Through the medium of art

By Sana Rezwan Sait  June 8th, 2018

Five South Asian New-York based artists revisit their roots and discuss influences, inspirations and their practice. Growing up between cultures — her father is Lebanese and her father is Afghani — artist, writer, activist and scholar Mariam Ghani often felt that the place with which she identified most was the border — and that is still where a lot of her work stems from. Her friend and collaborator Chitra Ganesh, counts her key influences in literature, posters, comics, album covers, textile prints and street art. “I tell stories with an emphasis on entanglement and visual pleasure — those that push the boundaries of gender and power representations.”  This boundary-breaking narrative can be found in the work of Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander, who says, “With the crisis around religion and nationalism, art can confront hierarchies through intellectual freedom and imagination.”

In conversation with Sana Rezwan Sait, these luminaries talk about art, politics, heritage, gender, nostalgia and what the future holds.

Mariam Ghani

Silk crepe sari, Rashmi Varma. Wool blazer, Michael Kors  Collection. Leather heels, Manolo  Blahnik. Stone earrings,  Lizzie  Fortunato

“I grew up between cultures; I am conscious of my diasporic viewpoint: it is intimate and estranged, insider and outsider, privileged and constrained”

Besides being an artist, Mariam Ghani is also a writer, film-maker, activist and scholar. Her work — translated through video, sound, installation, photography, text and data — draws from environments where social and political structures take on visible forms. Growing up between cultures (her mother is Lebanese and her father is Afghani), she often felt that the place with which she identified most was the border — and that is still where a lot of her work stems from. She is known for her long-term projects, such as the ongoing 14-year collaboration with fellow artist Chitra Ganesh, titled Index Of The Disappeared, an experimental archive of post-9/11 disappearances, which is also a mobile platform for public dialogue. She has exhibited her work at major museums in New York and several other notable institutions and summits across Europe and the US.


Chitra Ganesh

Cotton top, Yavi. Georgette sari, NorBlack NorWhite. Satin heels, Paul  Andrew. Metal earrings, Lizzie  Fortunato

“I tell stories with an emphasis on entanglement and visual pleasure — those that push the boundaries of gender and power representations” 

The graduate from Brown University and Columbia University finds the processes of drawing and collage to be the most intuitive way of working. Her key influences include literature, posters, comics, album covers, textile prints and street art. Her most recent projects at New York’s Rubin Museum Of Art, Chitra Ganesh: The Scorpion Gesture and Chitra Ganesh: Face Of The Future, showcase five short-story animations, and include drawings that are layered with historical Buddhist and Animist iconography, alongside collages and works on paper. Her upcoming September solo at The Kitchen in New York will see her present a new sculpture.


Shahzia Sikander

Cotton sari, Abraham & Thakore. Beaded necklace, Lizzie  Fortunato

“With the crisis around religion and nationalism, art can confront hierarchies through intellectual freedom, knowledge and imagination”

Shahzia Sikander was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to the US to pursue an MFA at Rhode Island School Of Design, later establishing herself in New York with her first major exhibition at The Drawing Centre. Her practice challenges the norms of 15th-century miniature painting through experiments with scale, subject matter and media. Sikander gravitates towards under-represented narratives in the shifting American sociocultural topography, and critiques the ideology of domination. Earlier this year, she participated in the inaugural Lahore Bienniale, with an outdoor artwork. Her first solo will take place this September at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York. 


Yamini Nayar

Silk top, Yavi. Cotton silk sari, Payal Khandwala. Leather heels,  Christian  Louboutin. Metal ring and necklace, Nayar’s own

“The issues of migration are central to my work. I feel that our community needs more visibility. It needs to resist being written out of the narrative in this country"

Yamini Nayar is an alumna of New York’s School Of Visual Arts and Rhode Island School Of Design. She has exhibited globally, from MMK Museum Für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, to Kiran Nadar Museum Of Art in New Delhi and Saatchi Gallery in London. Her works intersect photography, sculpture and architecture through photographs, mixed media assemblages and installations. Her primary interest lies in the Bauhaus and Cubism movements of the early 20th century — those that grappled with spatiality, industry, technology and the body. She is presently working on her next solo with Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco that opens this fall.


Nandini Chirimar

Cotton shirt, Michael Kors  Collection. Silk sari, Raw  Mango. Acetate glasses, metal ring; both Chirimar’s own

"I draw from my experiences growing up in India — everyday objects and their function, as well as memory and how it relates to our present”

Originally from Jaipur, Nandini Chirimar launched her career in the US over 30 years ago. Her practice draws on things that populate her mind as she goes about her day as a mother, daughter, artist and homemaker, in New York. Autobiographical elements are used to touch upon larger phenomena such as globalisation, memories, relationships, grief, death and time; while memories and how they relate to present life is a critical part of her oeuvre. Her works on paper, including drawing and printmaking form a large part of her practice. Chirimar extensively works on Japanese paper using pencil, pen, watercolour, etching, chine-collé and woodblock printing, and loves to experiment with thread, handmade paper, photography, and digital and object-based work.


Photographs: Julien Capmeil, Styling: Rahul Vijay

Hair: Laura Deleon/Joe Management;

Make-Up: Christina Reyna/Ray Brown;

Props Stylist: Nicole Heffron;

Production: Isabel Scharenberg;

Assisted By: Divya Gursahani and Mridu Gupta (Styling)