Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Centre D’art “Unseen Realities” by artist Aparna Ashok

Article by Christoph Kluetsch for AVArtS

The exhibition “Unseen Realities” by Aparna Ashok in the Centre D’art, Auroville is oppressive. The entrance of the gallery is closed, the visitor is asked to enter via the back entrance. At the entrance is a notebook to take away to record one’s own thoughts. Aparna Ashok does not want to present the visitor with pleasing art. Instead, it is an installation with video, photography, objects, sound around the topic of identity, discrimination, anxiousness. You could say it is a typical multimedia installation based on performance art. One might have seen something like this before, the medium and format is not new, it is not surprising that a young artist who graduated with a master’s degree from the Royal Collage of Art London does something like this. One might think so.

But after just a few minutes in the exhibition, I find myself questioning myself, my surroundings, the art world. Aparna Ashok points out right at the beginning of the exhibition that she is reflecting on her own situation as a young Indian woman in London, a colonial power here and there, and her own insecurities, hurts, fears are the topic of her art. Everyone should ask themselves, reflect, that’s what the notebook at the entrance is for, you can and should of course take your notes home.

What is it like to see this work by a young artist from India living in London, here in Auroville? To say it right up front, it’s shocking.

In a video installation, the artist is seen smashing a plaster bust with a heavy hammer. She asks whether she should destroy herself, if she must change. “I never felt the need to fit in…why do I feel that way now…. Have I become mentally ill or intolerant toward other people and sentient beings? …. Maybe I should break who I am, maybe I should kill who I am.”

Another installation shows a video of a performance in a park. Passersby were asked to throw balloons of red paint in their direction and say out loud what they think. It’s exposing, cruel, contemptuous. My hands are still shaking as I write this. We hear them saying things like: get a college degree/family, stay in line, get married, learn to forgive, be observant to man and so on … While the white-dressed artist gets more and more colored by red paint, sprayed on her by passersby. At the end of the performance, she gets up and at the same time we hear in the background a public fair starting with a commercial welcoming.

The largest installation, on the other hand, is a bit weak. Almost life-size photos of her with her face covered, sitting on the bed in a nightgown, are contrasted with bulky black objects that may stand for nightmares. The set-up bed with a video monitor showing the artist struggling with herself is somewhat unmotivated. So, this part seems a bit voyeuristic. The reflection layer is missing.

After passing through these installations, I find myself in the back part of the exhibition. It is empty and gives space for reflection. This is brutal and good. I need to collect energy before I go back through the exhibition, out through the back entrance. On the way I talk to some people in the exhibition. We talked about the difference between sympathy and compassion, discrimination, the role of art, whether it should be uplifting or critical. We talked about education, politics and much more. We were all just asking questions. There are no simple answers, and that is one important aspect of contemporary art, to make us ask real questions. It doesn’t have to beautiful, neither do we need to be presented the answers. Art creates spaces, be it spiritual, comfortable, homy, representational, reflective, or experimental spaces in which we can get a different look on the world and on ourselves.

Bio:

Aparna is a multi-disciplinary designer and self-portrait photographer based in India. She is driven by research and curiosity about the complexities of human experience and identity. 

Before studying MA Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art, Aparna completed her BA in Visual Arts at Stella Maris College in Chennai, India. 

Aparna’s work centers around social benefit through the creation of scenarios and opportunities for interaction. She works across the fields of graphic design, photography, art direction, curation, and filmmaking. Her practice is rooted in creating curated designed experiences.

https://2021.rca.ac.uk/students/aparna-ashok

The exhibition was on view from 9th to 24th December 2022

Aparna Ashok  “Coffin corner” 2022, Mixed Media Installation Centre D’Art, Auroville