Opening night for my current solo exhibition "Upping the Aunty" at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, Toronto was spectacular. We had such a fabulous range of people come through over the 4 hours. People saw, coloured, ate, drank (there may even have been a few dance moves), connected. Daniels Spectrum and the wonderful people who work there from the curator elle alconcel to the Executive Director Seema Jethalal is an inspired place existing in the precious in-between space of a gallery and a community hub. It is an honour to show my work there. Photo credit: Yannick Anton (@yannickanton)
While continuing work on my Upping the Aunty series of large-scale paintings, I decided to take a few weeks off to create the Upping the Aunty colouring book for adults and children alike. The book features 30 drawings all ready to be coloured in. It's a feminist project that simultaneously challenges how we see our aunties and how we see fashion. Some of the drawings are humorous, some subversive and others just plain fun.
The book was launched at The 6IX Goddess, NorBlack NorWhite's pop-up in Toronto this past September. The first print run has sold out, however a second run in ready for purchase in the shop for the holiday season. The Upping the Aunty Colouring Book is only $20 and ships internationally from Toronto. Get yours!
For me, #Unstitched is an intimate reminder. Wrapping us closely, the sari holds the stories of our bodies. What do we carry, hide, fold into ourselves? And what happens when it is WE who are unstitched, not held together, when we fall apart? Can we hold these stories the way a sari drapes, forgiving and lovingly holding each and every body the way a sari is unconditional in its holding.
#Unstitched The Sari Project has its own journey, one that will unfold in its own way. Some participants will engage with the sari as a material object, a garment, a craft. For some, the sari will be an entry point, into personal memory, sweetness, celebration, challenges, growth. For some, the sari suggests the politics of colonialism, migration, racism, resistance.
#Unstitched opens a conversation about the sari beyond its role as something to just wear, placing it in the folds of shared experience. The project offers new ways of thinking about the sari, of what we wear, how we wear it and why we wear it.
#Unstitched is a project that crosses many boundaries: nation, culture, class, caste, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, age, language, race, family. And more. In this crossing, the project neither erases these boundaries, nor is determined by them. It seeks to explore a different kind of belonging, and relationship, one that exists in spite of these barriers to create what Jaquie Alexander calls ‘genealogies of critical consciousness’, through which we become visible to one another and resist the invisibility of our lives. It is an invitation of connection, transformation, healing.
A special thank you to two very good friends - Vivek Shraya and Gurbir Singh Jolly - for documenting the evening through the photographs below. Also a very special thank you to Narendra Pachkhédé for his guest talk at the launch. And a big hug to my partner Karishma Kripalani, my sister Meha Sethi, my parents Bali and Rupa Sethi and wonderful friends Rachna Contractor and Andil Gosine who moderated the evening talks.
Come celebrate the Launch of #Unstitched / The Sari Project
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Artscape Youngplace, Rm 107, 180 Shaw St, Toronto
1 sari. 108 people.
We invite you to the launch of #Unstitched: an international, collaborative, performance art project and the co-launchof Unstitched Thoughts – a series of conversations on the idea of Sari during the project’s two-year journey around the world.
For the opening keynote, join writer, philosopher and theorist, Narendra Pachkhédé for a lively discussion of the sari as an object of inquiry. How can we examine the sari as a cultural artifact? How can we value the act of wearing a sari as an event? How can we engage with the cultural significance of the sari, the politics of sari-wearing, and explore its story as that of a great survival.
7:15pm Project Introduction: Meera Sethi
7:30pm Opening Keynote: Saree as an object of inquiry by Narendra Pachkhédé, Commonwealth Fellow
8.15pm Q&A: Artist Meera Sethi and Narendra Pachkhédé
Join us to send off #Unstitched in style!
Back almost a year ago, I was approached by Duke University Press to license an image of my artwork Anamika Sengupta (Ann) to them for the cover of a forthcoming title "Unsettling India: Affect, Temporality, Transnationality" by Purnima Mankekar who is a Professor of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA.. I was thrilled as I was a fan of Purnima's work having reviewed it for my graduate thesis.
Earlier this summer, a copy of the final published book arrived on my doorstep with my artwork on the cover! Maybe it's time we judge a book by its cover.
Over the month of August and into early September, my project entitled “Upping the Aunty” has received a wave of positive press. NPR, NBC, Midday, The Times of India, The Hindu and others have written about the project and shared photographs from the aunty street style tumblr. Countless others have shared the project through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Little did I know when I started this project that the ubiqutous “Aunty,” her presence and her style, would touch the hearts and minds of thousands of people. From the brilliant historian and critic of Indian culture, Vijay Prashad (who tweeted about the project), to the incredible actor Lisa Ray (who is now a follower), “Upping the Aunty” has people talking about the once forgotten about “Aunty” with her socks with open-toed sandals to her runners with salwars!
Several months ago, I realized that I had lost touch with the most important tool a visual artist can have: a sketchbook. Somewhere along the way, my attention shifted from the simple pleasure of marks on paper to a more involved project of "producing" paintings. I became focused on the end product, not the process.
Then, this past Winter, I was travelling, staying in different homes and spaces. I did not always have a studio from where I could paint, or a way to transport my paintings from city to city, or country to country. Meanwhile, through train, autorickshaw and pedestrian journeys in multiple Indian cities, my senses were being inundated. But I was left with a feeling of disconnection to my art, a loss of magic.
A small 8.5 inch x 6 inch notebook given to me by a very special person changed all that. For a few weeks, the notebook travelled with me wherever I went, unopened.
And then, the creative floodgates opened.
The very first sketch I made came easily to me: a pattern made up of various black marks arranged over a lined grid. As is my style, I proceeded to colour in the pattern I drew and then, right there, an idea emerged.
This was going to be my #30daychallenge that I had wanted to do for so long! The project that I had been putting off for so long, waiting for the "right" time to begin. 30 days of 30 different drawings, all following a theme or process. What I hadn't planned for, however, was that each complete drawing took anywhere from 2-5 hours. How does one find this time every day when travelling, visiting family and crossing multiple time zones to set up a new home?
Maybe there never is a perfect time to start something new.
And so, 30 days turned into 60. But everything begins somewhere. Even the most beautiful tall redwood tree begins with a small seed in the earth. A simple sketch is like that. Now, I have a joyful daily practice that is nourishing many new beginnings.
Watch the flipagram that captures all 30 or see them individually on my instagram.
#uppingtheaunty. I'm here in Mumbai, India upping the ante on street style. As part of my one-month artist residency in Mumbai, I am documenting "aunties" with swag. Mostly this consists of "aunty-spotting" and then explaining in my broken Hindi that I like how they put themselves together and want to document and celebrate this through my art. Some aunties are indulgent and flattered while others are suspicious. I always ask permission before taking a snap.
I'm interested in changing the game on fashion. Who do we think is fashionable? How do we determine what style is? Who creates cool? South Asian aunties rock to their own beat. They bring the tradition in fresh ways and are deeply interested in personal expression through clothing. Aunties also hold a special place in our hearts, particularly in the global South Asian diaspora.
In South Asian culture, an aunty may or may not be a biological relation. She may be a friend of the family or a stranger. But if she is older than you – old enough to be your mother's friend – then she is accorded the status of aunty. Neither our mothers nor part of our peer group, aunties may be trusted confidantes or gatekeepers of social decorum.
With the new work, I will pay homage to the fabulousness of aunty style and the importance of their role as transmitters of social and cultural knowledge and practices.
Who's your aunty? Do you dig her style. Post a photo on your preferred social network with the hashtag #uppingtheaunty and make sure to tell me about it!
Just one day before this season's first snowfall, I completed my 4-storey mural as part of the Church Street Mural Project in Toronto. As temperatures dropped to an icy 0 °C, I worked long hours to put every last stripe of gold paint on the brick wall. It was the first mural I have ever painted and what a journey it was!
The mural took over 24 cans of paint (all different colours), 16 rolls of tape, 20 paintbrushes (used many times over), 4 buckets, 6 rollers (also washed many times over), 2 paint trays, 4 levels of scaffolding, 1 paint sprayer, 1 very long rope, 1 very long extension cord, 1 hairdryer (yes, you heard that right), 2 angle levels, 1 tsquare, 1 measuring tape, 1 laser mouse, 1 roll of "caution" tape, 2 neon pylons, 2 tarps, 1 step stool, 1 ladder, numerous rags and newspapers, 4 pairs of work gloves, 2 pairs of knee pads, 1 pair of coveralls, numerous layers of clothing, 2 hats, 3 socks, and most important of all, 7 volunteers... you get the point. It was a production!
Perhaps one of the nicest moments of the process was on one cold Sunday afternoon. I was about about halfway into my mural, when I was contemplating a day of clambering up the scaffolding to begin marking diagonal lines across brick and windows... It was an impossible job for just one person to do, yet no one else was available to help. And the weather in Toronto had turned cooler. Was I going to be able to see this project through?
And then the universe sent me a message in the form of a complete stranger, Christopher Rouleau, who had heard of this project through one of the curators.
Chris was a blessing to me that day - and for many other days. I would not have been able to complete this project without his kind, generous and consistent help.
Chris is also a creative soul. He is a talented graphic designer and typographer who has recently launched some new products on his online store, one of which is a gorgeous black and gold lithograph titled "Be Kind." Chris, thank you for living your words.
I would also like to thank: the many businesses in the Church Wellesley community for their support of my project, particularly Ho's Team Barbers and Novack's Pharmacy; the curators of the CSMP, Syrus Marcus Ware and James Fowler for thier dedication and vision and the organizers of this project; Counsellor Kristyn Wong-Tam, Sheila and Tristan from the City of Toronto for their hard work and many long hours of preparation, the project sponsors and of course all the other artists who were also a part of the Church Street Mural Project. Without them, there would be no murals!
In excited to announce that an important Canadian art collection "Dr. Kenneth Montague / The Wedge Collection, Toronto" has acquired two works from the Foreign Returned series. The Wedge Collection began showcasing and promoting works exploring notions of black subjectivity and cultural representation and quickly became a well-respected initiative that filled a gap in Toronto’s art community. The collection includes works by Edward Burtynsky, Shirin Neshat, Samuel Fosso and Hassan Hajjaj among others.
Sudha Subramanium (Sue) and K. Swaminathan (Sam) I wish you the best on your onward journey!