The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB) is a volunteer, female-led, artist-run project. TIAB 2020 launched in March in New York City at Brooklyn Museum, and continued in September through December at EFA Project Space, Greenwood Cemetery, and virtually, presenting 60+ artists. This interview series features 10 participating artists.
Priyanka Dasgupta and Chad Marshall’s practice draws from sociological conventions, archival texts, and postcolonial studies to examine power and disenfranchisement in the US and their relationship to appearance. Recent exhibitions of their work include ‘Uptown Triennial’ (2020), ‘The Immigrant Biennial’ (2020), ‘Pigeonhole,’ Knockdown Center, NY (2019), Dodd Galleries, UGA, Athens (2019), Sunroom Project: Paradise, WaveHill, NY (2018), In Practice: Another Echo, SculptureCenter, NY (2018). Residencies include Artist Studio Program, Smack Mellon (2018-19) and AIRspace, Abrons Arts Center (2018). Dasgupta and Marshall’s work has been reviewed in various publications. They are recipients of the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, 2019-20.
Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they?
Artists always have political responsibilities; the issues confronting us at this moment are not new and have not arisen from the ether. Art is the original form of communication. The desire to make art comes from the need to communicate something—a concept, a concern, a history—that has previously been marginalized or remains unknown. The inherent politics within such an act is undeniable. It is intrinsically embroiled in the history of power, of representation, and of access.
While each artist responds to this responsibility in their own way, some invariably claiming that their work is personal, or apolitical, the responsibility remains unchanging. In the words of Frida Kahlo, “The personal is political.”
Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration.
Several years ago during a studio visit in grad school, with a curator from a well-known Chelsea gallery, I was told that my work was “not Indian enough.” The said curator had visited India a few months prior, and like all European tourists visiting the “Orient” for the first time, had been able to cater her exposure to reinforce her limited preconceptions about “the land of snake charmers and exotic, bejeweled women.” Clearly my predominantly black and white, and austere, work didn’t sit well with her, so she decided to school me into performing her assumptions about my birth place over my own reality. In retrospect, this incident does provide some comic relief, however, at the time, its trauma sat at the center of my practice, and early immigrant experience.
How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?
The need to create work that can be experienced virtually/digitally, and have an influence beyond an immediate physical interaction, remains pertinent. The opportunity that The Immigrant Artist Biennial has provided, to create with that goal in mind, has had an expansive impact on how we tell the stories we want with our art and has allowed us to envision ways by which to transcend the parameters of a physical space to circulate and share our work.
Tell us about the work you are exhibiting in The Immigrant Artist Biennial.
The work exhibited in The Immigrant Artist Biennial includes selections from our archive, based on the life and times of Bahauddin (Bobby) Alam. Alam was a Bengali lascar who immigrated to the United States in 1918 and gained fame as a Black Jazz musician. He is representative of the larger historical movement of Bengalis who mixed and married into Black communities, and passed as Black, to get around US Immigration Laws barring Asians, extending from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1885 until the end of the Second World War.
The included images comprise concert posters from Alam’s Silk & Spice Tour, his musical world tour that re-traces the initial route Alam traveled, working on British Merchant Naval ships to migrate from Calcutta to New York City. The video, Welcome Stranger, combines found footage and home movies from Alam’s archive to visualize his journey into the United States, through Ellis island.
Please share a piece of advice or a resource that may be useful to an immigrant artist.
In one word: self-determination. Whether you are newly immigrated or several generations in, as an ethnic minority, at some point, seen invariably as an “other,” you’re going to be told your work is not “______” enough. In this way, someone from the outside is going to try to tell you how best to represent yourself based on their limited and stereotypical perception of who you are. Don’t listen.