Queens Museum exhibit showcases provocative artwork
By Prem Calvin Prashad

For the next month, the Queens Museum will host the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective’s yearly visual arts exhibition, titled “A Bomb, with Ribbon Around It.” The name refers to a critique of the works of Frida Kahlo, whose artistic style and complex identity flew in the face of her contemporaries.

Much in the same way Kahlo defied convention and gender norms, the artists featured in this exhibit bare all aspects of their cultural, sexual, religious or political identities to produce works that are unique and provoking.

While this exhibit is not a repudiation of South Asian culture and aesthetics, the artists also do not completely embrace and emulate it, as each artist has carefully crafted their contribution to express their sense of belonging or un-belonging with traditional culture and reconciling that notion with their world. Indeed, though some of the artists featured have roots in India, Pakistan and Iran, most have lived itinerant lives across Europe, Africa, the United States and Canada.

Collective board member Marcy Chevali said SAWCC helps build a “community [that] is very important to artists, especially those who may have left their homes and the culture they grew up in and also those who are looking to connect more deeply with their roots.”

The exhibit opened to a modest reception Dec. 14. Several of the artists featured had the opportunity to discuss their works and experiences in an intimate talk with the audience. The talk was introduced by the exhibit’s esteemed curator, Raul Zamudio.

SAWCC board member Josheen Oberoi said SAWCC invites different, non-South Asian curators every year. This serves two purposes, introducing the featured artists with New York’s artistic community, as well as to “negate the ‘exoticization’ of the work being done by these artists,” Oberoi noted.

SAWCC enhances the profile and broadens the dialogue on art created by South Asian women, which tends to occupy a minuscule niche of the mainstream art scene. In having Zamudio as the curator for “A Bomb, with a Ribbon Around It,” SAWCC connects artists with a larger community while ensuring their work remains unique expressions of themselves, rather than compartmentalized as merely “South Asian art.”

Among the live performances at the reception, Nazneen Ayyub-Wood performed “An Unwanted Pest,” where she clung to the wall in Velcro and plywood rigging with wings on her back. Here, Ayyub-Wood, a British artist of Pakistani origin, demonstrates feelings of being an uninvited guest and a nuisance in an adopted land. She further juxtaposes her posture, imitating an Islamic prayer position with her own experience growing up with religious ideology.

Los Angeles-based artist Vidisha Saini, also known as Vidisha-Fadescha, lauded the exhibit’s curator and the Queens Museum, noting that her work has been censored in places such as Dubai and India for political and other controversial content.

Vidisha-Fadescha’s contribution to the exhibit were photographs from her project “Loud and Dirty,” which explores motifs such as sexuality, notions of privacy and the binary nature of gender. In one of her photos, Vidisha stands and urinates through a prosthetic penis, providing commentary on the taboo of public urination between the genders.

Worthy of mention is Priyanka Dasgupta’s “Dreams of Inconvenience,” an acrylic and metal sculpture of shadow puppets that nearly covers the wall and serves as a focal point for the exhibit. The puppets, depicting Hindu sadhus — holy men — hold the artist’s heart, the price for recognition and acceptance.

The written word alone cannot describe the uniqueness of these works and the artists who created them. I encourage everyone to attend the exhibit, which ends Jan. 18, and experience these incredible works presents by the SAWCC artists for themselves.

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