Thursday, May 11, 2017

Archives play an integral role in daily life, yet they often remain obscured or overlooked. They allow viewers to receive glimpses of the past, of a life that they never experienced, and help reconstruct history; They become a foundation of knowledge and information for the academics and curious; They contribute to the formation and continuous evolution of identity. The form archives take are not restricted by documents, literature, or visual mediums: in fact, they are all around us. The clothes we wear, the objects we possess, and the things we carry on a daily basis: these are only a handful of examples of archives, items that can be used to reconstruct history and transform identities. The contributions archives make are, again, often disregarded or obscured because there are not many people who can identify the numerous forms they can take on. Thankfully, at the Abrons Arts Center, the true extent of archives was exposed.

Archival Alchemy
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collective was an exhibition, curated by Saisha Grayson, that used an assortment of archives in order to explore issues relating to assimilation,  marginalization, representation, and identity. Thirteen female South Asian artists contributed pieces that examined the history and present stance of South Asian women. Here is an official statement from South Asian Women's Creative Collective:

"At a moment when South Asian communities, women, and immigrant neighborhoods like the Lower East Side are being targeted by an evidence-averse administration, ​this exhibition will also offer an opportunity for nuanced reflection on the complex global and personal histories that shape conflicting views of our contemporary moment. Several works explore the role that archives play in creating official histories, papering over dissent and managing the disappearance of non-citizens, while others present or produce counter archives that resist such erasure and offer strategies for empowerment."

At the exhibition, an assortment of aesthetically-pleasing and personal pieces were displayed, all which provided political and social commentary on the lives of South Asian women. Here are a few examples of the pieces featured in the exhibition:

I Never "Ask for It" by Blank Noise:
Gathering together thousands of garments worn by those experiencing sexual harassment or violence, the ongoing project "counters the lie that women 'ask for it' through calmative, collectively-built testimonials reporting the truth of widespread, unchecked, unprovoked sexual aggression." The individuals who submitted clothes are labeled as "Action Heroes" -- ordinary citizen-participants taking action to tackle sexual assault. The diversity in styles -- children's cartoon t-shirts, modest cardigans, beach dresses, sweatshirts, and pajamas -- proves that "there is no outfit that women can wear that will stop what is ultimately a societal problem -- an entrenched rape culture that extends from excusing 'locker room talk,' ignoring street harassment, shame sexual assault victims, and failing to punish rapists, abusive spouses, and murderous partners to the full extend of the law." The display was supported by both text and audio clips.

 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
 Garments Worn by Women Experiencing Sexual Harassment or Violence
Photo by Baie Rogers
The Scheherazade Project by Amy Khoshbin*:
The Scheherazade Project is a multimedia project that "merges live performance and an original score with animated Persian illustrations, images from the Iranian Revolution, found and newly created film footage, and immersive video game tropes to explore the power of storytelling, past and present." To view the entire feature, please feel free to click the link provided:

A Snippet from the Video
Photo by Baie Rogers
Another Snippet from the Video
Photo by Bob Lee
*The AAAC has written an extended piece about Amy Khoshbin. Please feel free to find the post on our blog.

Past and Present by Zinnia Naqvi:
Naqvi's series "uses family albums as a dynamic archives through which intergenerational identity construction and legacies of migration can be more precisely understood." There are two sets of photographs: one is an archival image that presents an migrant parent standing in their countries of origin; the second photograph is Naqvi's attempt to restage the original photograph using the parent's children. The process "reveals resonances that derive not only from familial resemblance, but from the children's tendency to be drawn towards or to create environments that offer points of connectivity."

Zinnia Naqvi's Project Past and Present
Image From Booklet
A Close Up
Photo by Bob Lee
Troy Towers by Patience Rustomji:
In her piece, discarded objects collected from her apartment complex are placed into glass vases, of all shapes and sizes, and are submerged in "cooking oil and spices traditionally used to preserve food" that were repurposed from her mother's kitchen. Rustomji "attempts to create an 'eternal present' for this imagined by invisible community by transforming detritus redolent of urban dislocation and alienation into 'a personal archive of desire, fantasy, and longing.'"

Patience Rustomji's Troy Towers
Image From Booklet

Another Vantage Point
Photo by Bob Lee
Perfect Love and Other Stories by Marium Agha:
Constructed with embroidery, recycled imagery, and found tapestries, Agha "dissects myths of love that accumulate across cultures, obscuring real experiences that run counter to formulaic fairytales." The rabbit featured in below is flayed, exposing threads and muscles. The pieces -- not displayed below is portrait that recreates Alice's White Rabbit, only it is instead made up of yarn and rope on fabric -- "court sensuous responses that, like their subject, exceed rationality."

Marium Agha's Perfect Love and Other Stories
Photo by Bob Lee

Index of the Disappeared by Chitra Ganesh and Miriam Ghani:
Following 9/11, there was a drastic shift in views towards security, privacy, Muslims, and immigrants. The ongoing archival project "is continually expanding to reflect the proliferating bureaucratic and legal mechanisms, and to appose the shift towards secrecy surveillance, and censorship, that have accompanied an unprecedented of disseverances, deportations, renditions, and detentions since 2001." The Index also provides "documents tracing the connections between increased immigrations enforcement and chilled speech, racial profiling, media representations of people of color, prison labor, the private prison industry, abuse in detention, corruption in ICE, militarization of the US-Mexio border, and the xenophobic histories of the 96 Laws, Japanese internment, and the Asian Exclusion Act."

The Index of the Disappeared 
Photo by Bob Lee
100 Days/16 Years
Photo by Bob Lee
Archival Alchemy achieved so much within it's small space: the exhibition provided a platform for an often overlooked demographic -- South Asian women -- to present their voices; the installations helped highlight complex but relevant issues that continue to shape the lives of every individual; the artists who contributed work brilliantly reminds viewers that archives are more than items: they are our stories and our identities.

On May 7th, Many of the Artists Held a Panel to Discuss Their Work
Photo by Bob Lee 
For more information about Archival Alchemy: South Asian Women's Creative Collection
For more information about the Abrons Art Center:
For more information about Blank Noise and their ongoing project I Never "Ask for It"
For more information about Amy Koshbin:
For more information about Zinnia Naqvi:
For more information about Patience Rustomji:
For more information about Marium Agha:
For more information about Index of the Disappeared 
Different Themes
Written by Lovely

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