These Indian-Origin Women Raise Important Points About Nationalism
(Photo Courtesy: Nimisha Bhanot /Ochoboyz)
(Photo Courtesy: Nimisha Bhanot /Ochoboyz)

These Indian-Origin Women Raise Important Points About Nationalism

The word ‘Indian’ is being dissected along sharp political lines today. What was once an innocent affirmation of one’s identity is now being probed with harsh queries. It’s become about being either a nationalist or an anti-nationalist. About supporting one side or the other.

Whatever the repercussions, for these Indian-origin girls, Indianness is a part of their identity they refuse to part with. In fact, their roots have assumed shape in their artwork even though they live thousands of miles away from it.

Nimisha Bhanot, an Indian-origin woman living in Canada, decided to use her paintings to celebrate the bicultural identity of Indo-American women.

I Love My India/Watan Mera India, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x40” . (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
I Love My India/Watan Mera India, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x40” . (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Bad Ass Maa Durga

36 x 48

Oil on canvas

2013. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Bad Ass Maa Durga 36 x 48 Oil on canvas 2013. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Not Your Mom’s Bahu, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x28”. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Not Your Mom’s Bahu, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x28”. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Beauty Of The Orient At Your Elbow, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x40”. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Beauty Of The Orient At Your Elbow, 2015. Oil on canvas, 20”x40”. (Photo: Nimisha Bhanot)
Being a South Asian woman living in Canada, my life is a collection of both Eastern and Western influences. I don’t think I’m any less Indian if I embrace my ‘Western influences’ or any less Canadian if I embrace my Indian identity. So I decided to start making paintings of confident women that accept and reject aspects of South Asian and North American culture, to mimic the process of building one’s bicultural identity as a commentary on the contemporary South Asian diaspora. 
Nimisha Bhanot, Artist

Tina Singh, a musician from the Bay Area who goes by the name OtinaOtina, creates mixtapes juxtaposing Punjabi folk songs with contemporary Arabic and Afrobeats on her turntables.This one is part of Volume 5 of her Basslines and Culture mixtape.

My mixtapes represent what Indian ancestry means to me: a blend of many different cultures, spirituality, languages, and fashion. Basslines and Culture 5 is specifically a mix of Bengali, Kashmiri, Sri Lankan, Punjabi, Urdu, and Tamil music with a Western influence of bass, rhythm, and electronica. Being born in the US and raised by indigenous Desi family members has everything to do with my experimentation and love for Indian music and culture.
Tina Singh, Musician

London-based moving image and performance artist, Zarina Muhammad’s work deals with the varied experiences of diasporic identity.

This work of hers, which can be experienced in its multimedia entirety here, uses visual tropes to present a hazy idea of India, one remembered from afar.

Bharat Mata by Zarina Muhammad. (Photo Courtesy: Screengrab from <a href="http://newhive.com/artwallah/bharat-mata">Bharat Mata multimedia project</a>)
Bharat Mata by Zarina Muhammad. (Photo Courtesy: Screengrab from Bharat Mata multimedia project)
Bharat Mata is a way of co-opting tropes of nationhood and the abstract notion of Mother India. It’s less a vivid representation of India and more a hazy, loose one based on semiotic signifiers and tropes
Zarina Muhammad, moving image and performance artist

Zarina’s work, she insists, has nothing do with even the P of Politics back home. In fact, her work identifies more as a diasporic preoccupation with finding and representing one’s identity.

When asked about the furore that the phrase, Bharat Mata, which is incidentally the title of her work, is generating in India, Zarina makes it abundantly clear that her work is more to do with the visualization of India through its Bollywoodised loud tropes than the shrill meaning it is being affixed to back home.

It’s less to do with Indians in India and more to do with diasporic identity that’s divorced from that. It’s more the idea of India as an abstract concept and less as a tool with which propaganda is enforced.
Zarina Muhammad

When artist OtinaOtina is asked about her opinion on the big divide between Indianness that she subscribes to, and the bharat-mata-ki-jai-Indianness and its antithesis that has germinated in the country...and how as an Indian-origin woman, she sees this whole nationalism debate, she says:

As a Desi woman, Indian culture to me is much larger, authentic, and powerful than any nationalistic movement such as “bharat mata ki jai”...Forcing or unforcing a chant can’t change someone’s love and appreciation for their culture or country.
Tina Singh, Musician

Given the only two polarities with which nationhood is being viewed these days, one wonders whether the work of these artists too will be politicised and viewed through a sharp lens. Nonetheless, it is a nice breather to witness work that, though celebrating India, has nothing to do with the narrow connotations that such similarly-themed work has been restricted to in the country today.

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