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MOHINI CHANDRA - b. 1964 Canvey Island, England. Lives and works in London.

Chandra, ' Album Pacifica', 1997. (top, installation view and above, detail of one photograph) (2)

"For artists 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 Chandra

 

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.

Chandra's ancestors 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.

Album Pacifica
'Album 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.

space" After the thaw... I still felt cold... Trying to make a lawn & to conquer the land I lost myself to England! "

Together 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:

 

nice
nice
ugly

 

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.

Chandra, 'Travels in a New World 2',
video installation, 1997 (3)

"Either 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." Sean Cubitt

Chandra, 'Travels 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 Chandra

Travels in a New World
Chandra conducts 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?"

Chandra's following 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 link them.