Drawn from History/Memory
Moderator: Jordan Strom
Panelists: Avantika Bawa, Evan Lee, Cindy Mochizuki
For all three artists, one of the things that resonated for me is this idea of suspension and how people who are in a state of extreme stress and dire circumstances often fall outside the rule of law and the protections of the basic rights of citizenship.
Avantika, with your Komagata Maru, the use of the banner, the textile that you had drawn upon to drape between the barrier, suggests not just the suspension of being across the ocean, but the suspension of the harbour of Vancouver and the condition of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.
Cindy, with your use of the archive in relation to the internment camps, there’s this state of suspension which is very strange and also an extremely stressful and harmful sort of space.
And with you, Evan, I think of those images of the Sri Lankan men in the buses of the portraits that you recreated from some of the imagery, and also those images of scenes on the deck of the ship, the MV Ocean Lady. But there are different levels of your own for each of these examples. I am curious because I know that you bring your personal experiences in different ways into your practice.
Evan, I would like to hear about how you bring in the personal aspects that you talked about, the experiences with your connections, with your family and with your friends, who had been through situations somewhat comparable, in trying to identify or empathize with your subjects as somebody who hasn’t been through that sort of situation personally. Cindy, you bring the personal into your work around family stories quite often. Avantika, I feel like the personal is almost covered over to some extent — it is very much there, as you discussed, but there is also this shared experience through your engagement with modernism and sort of the universal aspects. Maybe with your use of the line and sculpture you capture the Komagata Maru specifics but also this condition of suspension that may exist in other histories or other circumstances. So, how does the personal inform your work when you engage with history and memory?
I think it’s very obvious in my work. It’s interesting: when I built the Yokai piece, those were images given to me — they are images that I didn’t have any kind of familial connection to. But when I go into the archive, it really becomes sort of a mirror back. I find myself waiting for something that’s going to call out to me that I am going to work with. So, for me, it does connect back to the body and bodies of trauma and the effects of that.
Panel 3 Discussion, photo by Kwantlen Polytechnic University
For me, I think it has to do with how much time I spend with the project. In the case of this Ocean Lady project that I started in 2009, shortly after the event — and I am still working on it — in a way it’s like building the model. I mean, it’s kind of like playing with dolls or like playing video games in a way. But it was a very involved and long process. It took me about a year to create the 3D model. So, this kind of living-through-by-working is how there is a bit of personal investment there. But also, I was going to mention that I have a few bodies of work where I use my father’s photography; he is kind of an unwilling collaborator — unwilling in the sense of… he obviously knew that I was doing it, but he didn’t know why. I do work with his images and I think of my position as not being a migrant, but instead kind of living through other people’s stories of migration. My dad’s photographs are more interesting than mine because I really don’t have that kind of stuff that has happened to me. I am envious of people with migrant stories in some ways; they won’t all be negative and difficult stories.
When you first approached me to be in the show, I was immediately interested in the periods of having been a passenger on a ship similar in some ways to the Komagata Maru and memories of always having to move from place to place and wondering whether the new place will be one where I’m going to be accepted, even when the move was from North India to South India. Thinking about this on a much larger scale, the undecided and the unknown were really interesting to me and thinking again about the bits of possibility in traveling from one country to another. I relate to that very much, to what the passenger might have been thinking about a hundred years ago when they took this route. When I was making this work and drawing that line, it was a painfully long line to draw and it’s not that large. So, thinking about the line as a water route over the course of three months, it really hit hard. I position myself in the role of those passengers, imagining what they might be have gone through and it was bittersweet.
I am also interested in personal roles and also site specificity as a technique, or a strategy of response that is very contemporary, and also this burden of creating out of this site specificity. I feel like there are different ways of doing it that are very personal, like what Cindy is doing, and finding the specificity of materials, which I wondered about. What is the responsibility that we have as artists, with regards to both memory and history that are linked to metanarratives, but also to the personal erasure of histories? I’m thinking also how we are — based on our identities — asked to respond within this structure, whether Latino, or Asian, or something else. How could this be a strategy and how do we escape it and deconstruct it?
People are telling their stories, and there is a lot of documentary work being done. As an artist, I am conscious of what I am adding to that, and I think part of the reason why sometimes I can’t let go of a work, is because there’s an ethical responsibility; it’s about how you lead your audience into your memory and who your audience is and where and why. So, I think about those things when I get placed in a position where I need to represent history or community.
I may have mentioned in the presentation that there is always this desire to satisfy this image of India, or this idea of the exotic. The reality is that there are so many ways of responding to that, and I feel my work more recently plays more inside the history, and in this case, with the piece that I did for Ruptures in Arrival, I was thinking about this journey from a more conceptual standpoint through cartography and a military logic. So, I think there is no one way of representing your own identity and your background. If there is only one way, then it would be very limiting and I’ve been exploring many ways through the language of minimalism.