The Bollywood Gaze
Swati Khurana’s Engendered at Diaspora Vibe Gallery Cinematizes the Female Stereotypes of Her Native India
By Michelle Weinberg
First off, Diaspora Vibe is to be congratulated for presented an Asian perspective here in Miami, where the conversation about immigrant identity revolves about entirely around the geography of Latin America. Indian culture is in scant supply in this “international” city, and yet Indians share many experiences with U.S. citizens. Suffering a British colonial era and ahving a large working middle class are two, not to mention a shared language
Artist Swati Khurana was born in India and raised in New York, and much of her work addresses the layers of identity involved in being a female Indian-American. The voluptuosness in her pieces wholeheartedly embraces the sensual and the exotic, even as she focuses on feminine stereotypes. Khurana’s colage series, titled “The Malabar Bride and Love in the Time of Silsila,” offers plenty of surface delight, all jewel-like colors and peppered with drawings in a casual, linear style that evokes fashion illustration. These works rely heavily on the original source material she uses — Indian movie posters, popular illustrations, home design books and magazines. An MTV mood prevails in many, as towers and chandeliers float against Technicolor sunsets, and fruit and animal symbols of fertility and sexually proliferate.
A useful definition of “kitsch” is emptying out the original meaning attached to an image and replacing it with a newer one, creating an ironic distance. A knowing enjoyment of that gap is the experience of kitsch. Khurana sidesteps this pothoe and stays safely in the realm of pastiche, a gentler adaptation of the cliches of Bollywood cinema. Idol worship of Bollywood stars, the fierce-of-a-kind confers a more vivid presence. The availability of the replica drains the other works of passion. Khurana herself, in a wonderful talk for visitors to the gallery, made an interesting point about the nostalgia for the absence of color she felt in these black-and-white works. This formal restraint creates some emotional austerity, an intensity of purposes that diferrentiates the Xerox transfers from the other works, and it’s palpable.
Khurana’s installation “The Least Suitable Girl” is a collection of trophies inscribed to the “Most Reluctant Housekeeper,” “Most Apprehensive Fiance,” “Most Disheveled Child,” “Least Dutiful Wife,” etc. They are concise, humorous and likable. Overall, Khurana’s creative fecundity, coupled with the easy accessibility of the works, contributes to a lack of mystique. The potential for allure and sophistication would increase exponentionally if the artwork would make use of the feminine wiles employed by Bollywood’s heroines — and play harder to get.