CHANDRA - b. 1964 Canvey Island, England.
Lives and works in London.
Chandra, ' Album Pacifica',
installation view and above, detail
of one photograph) (2)
such as myself, this choice of multimedia, in the broadest possible sense
of the word is, I believe, highly indicative of the very fluid and amorphous
cultural position in which we find ourselves." Mohini
Mohini Chandra is
an artist who uses photographic, video and film images of her own family
to explore histories of migration - voluntary and forced - and questions
of shifting cultural identity in a post-colonial era.
were taken from India by the British, to work as indentured labour, on
the sugar plantations of Fiji, in the Pacific Ocean. After becoming an
established community there, they were once again dispersed, emigrating
to various countries around the Pacific rim. Chandra herself, grew up
in several different countries, and consequently questions any idea of
a 'fixed' cultural identity.
Pacifica' (left) made in 1997, is an installation of 100 family photographs,
framed with the backs facing us, the images to the wall. Handwritten captions
on the back of each - some descriptive, some factual, some jokey - are
the only clues we have as to what the photographs might look like.
After the thaw... I still felt cold... Trying to make a lawn & to
conquer the land I
lost myself to England! "
they build up an intriguing narrative of relationships, displacements
and departures. These objects, scattered throughout the diasporic reaches
of Chandra's family, have been collected and united in this display. They
force us to give an alternative reading to the traditional family photograph
album and require an imaginative leap in translating the scant comments
or dates into images and personal histories. With
so little information we must try and read into the textures and stains
of each one, searching for signs.
One frame contains a photograph in landscape format with a faint caption
which speaks volumes. It simply reads:
AROUND YOUR WORLD
IN 80 WAYS...
Mohini Chandra uses
multi-media in her work to create layers or levels of meaning and to suggest
all the cultural influences which she draws upon. She also plays with
the relationship between words, stories and pictures.
- What would you
make, inspired by this work and ideas about 'global positions'?...
- You could experiment
with digital media to create a complex, layered portrait of yourself
or your family, using a variety of scanned or computer generated sources.
Alternatively you might try layering by projecting slides onto other
images and then re-photographing the result. These could be combined
with an audio soundtrack into a tape-slide work
- There are many
ways to create a map or web of connections. Look at transport maps,
bus routes, website maps, family trees etc., to see the different designs
illustrating these linking systems. You could design a visual map which
tells the story of your life so far. The main 'stops' might be all the
important landmark moments, people or places in your life, while the
smaller stops could be favourite things, funny moments or comments from
friends and family.
'Travels in a New World 2',
video installation, 1997 (3)
globalisation severs us from one another permanently and to the point of
disparate isolation; or it must be challenged by these other nets of interest,
care and memory."
in a New World 1', installation, 1994 (4)
"As a child,
I migrated to several countries, several times, between Australia, Britain
and so on and it was always the act of packing crates and tea chests that
unfolded meaning." Mohini
in a New World
a personal anthropology, excavating the threads of her family's disparate
past to inform a wider view of the South Asian diaspora. While undoubtedly
autobiographical, her pieces also refer to more broadly shifting identities.
'Travels in a New
World 1' is a walk-in installation consisting of tea chests acting as
light boxes. The illuminated transparencies on their tops are family photographs,
taken by Chandra as a child on a trip to Fiji in the 1970's. Images and
stenciled text on the sides of each box, represent issues such as trade,
slavery, religion and resistance. The soundtrack repeatedly asks the question
"Where do you come from?"
work in this series, 'Travels in a New World 2', is also walk-in installation
on the theme of diaspora, this time using video projections. On a large
wall, a grid with one black & white and five colour images is projected.
The colour images are 'talking heads', each with an ocean backdrop, facing
the camera. These headshots are occasionally replaced by a shot of waves
breaking on the beach. There is a jumbled soundtrack consisting of these
five people each talking about an image of an Indian family, their family,
in Fiji, which was their home a generation ago. The image they are talking
about is the one in the black and white projection.
Just as Chandra gathered
the scattered photos for 'Album Pacifica', so she has 'reunited' her dispersed
family to share memories of Fiji. But although each has the Pacific Ocean
behind them, they are actually filmed in different countries: Malaysia
Australia, America and Canada. The water between them, here serves to