Jaishri Abichandani   
allah u akbar, 2008, leather whip, wire, paint, swarovski crystals, 40 x 120 cm

Born 1971 in Mumbai (India)
Lives and works in New York (USA)

Appropriation seems to be the goal of many artists in this Zeitgeist; as the world archive increases so it seems to dwindle in other aspects. Hidden truths, maligned narratives and phobias abound. In allowing access to and mining within this excess of the visual, artists can contribute to a better understanding of our contemporary condition. Battered, withered and enslaved as we remain in our prejudice, Abichandani challenges our perception of lives and realities that seemingly remain across the threshold, as if bounded by their fate to geographical and political hinterlands.

The Soldier Bomber works are a testament to our colluding in such atrocious times, pregnant as they are with postponed agendas and monstrosities allied to land and resources. Appropriating their portraits from the internet, photos of actual female American and Canadian soldiers and Palestinian female suicide bombers, which she gleans from unfamiliar terrains, to create composite portraits that remain outside of acceptable ‘patriarchal narratives’. The insanity is not bounded by gender, the only remaining option is the urge for revolution even if its zeal smacks of herded, blinded patriotism.

Women and fatigues, a strange mixture of values and histories collude to frame a galley of individuals, known as soldiers, of which five versions are held in the collection. Often painted in circular panels, these work are a pastiche of guild portraits from a famous academy, with vivid patterns often formalizing the gaze. Abichandani’s oeuvre is processed by the use of hidden variables, which strike a chord by the recognition of the hidden within, which she reconstitute from the average often in its self-destructive reality to canonize a third seemingly liberated but maybe terrorist subject? Here everyone is a martyr, a design that constitutes and has become the blueprint of postmodern developing culture.

Traditionally, oppositions straddle across ravines, in fighting to create a better world but Abichandani refuses these opposites in Soldier Bomber, all soldiers, remain institutionalized by ideologies, they become a register by death, a form of commandeering activism, especially in parts of the world that we want to forget. In memorizing and reinscribing such motives, symbols and individuals the artists allows us to reframe and reconsider their currency and the very circuits within which they shape our daily culture.

The arrangement of materials and the site of knowledge seems to be of utmost importance to Abichandani, for the allowance of political agency. In The Rise and Fall, she combines whips, Swarovski crystals, Kufic calligraphy from the Iraqi flag spelling out God is Great and a hand drawn map of the Peter’s Projection (the real scale of the mass of continents), to make a complex new picture. The whole work is constructed on a mural scale to make many histories present in one place, to co-exist as if time itself is released of its linearity.
The artist has made an immense effort to mesh time, place and ideologies, she suggests “the distortion of the swastika as well of the continents symbolizes the impact of religious and national fundamentalisms on the planet, the subtle differences between the two shades of red and green jewels are metaphors for the invisible but impactful differences between catholic and protestant, shia and sunni etc... the piece alludes as much to the formation of Israel as to the current violence in the Middle East as the on going result of the partitions of India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, both of which happened in 1947.”

Her cultural remapping of unfixing symbols, unhinging movements and a call for a hybrid Internationality, liberates meaning beyond particular questions. In occluding and undoing and a purposefully haptic affect in the materials and scale, the work is fabricated into folds of space, time and fundamentalisms. Overall the treatment remains even; it is empathetic to the kitsch, labour orientated and the decorative to define difference and, most importantly, that which is ethically marked.

Text Shaheen Merali