The sculptures featured in this exhibition reflect the conflicts of identity I experience as a first generation American from a Tamil household. My subject matter focuses on the traditional South Indian Jewelry a bride is expected to wear. I’ve taken these normally elegant objects and disfigured them. They are a testimony to how I’ve failed to fulfill the role set out for me since childhood. While I’ve always been able to stretch and squeeze past the traditional boundaries set for me by my culture, arranged marriage is the one unbendable rule I have to deal with at this very moment. Creating these pieces is to come to terms with the fact that breaking my mold will also mean losing the love and respect of my family. I would be dishonoring them and myself in the eyes of my community.
Indians have long been prideful people. Our honor is rooted in the legacy of our families and this honor drives our customs and beliefs. To lose our tradition is to lose our honor. Therefore, despite international growth over the years, our societies stay closed in order to preserve said tradition. Arranged marriages ensure that our families continue to be homogenous in race, religion, caste, and class.
The jewelry in this series is what a bride would traditionally wear at her wedding. In fact, the bride is obligated to wear these accessories because they are statements of wealth and status. My sculptures juxtapose the inherently refined beauty expected of this jewelry to the ugliness of the textured finishes of their skins, reflecting the conflict that I feel. For example, “Jimikki Kammal”are a type of earrings. They are intricately detailed yet sculpted with a jagged structure and rough surface. In their unpolished state, the ornaments fail to serve their cosmetic purpose, much like how I myself fail to serve my purpose by refusing an arranged marriage.
Some works also narrate how restrictive the tradition of arranged marriage is by pairing the jewelry with forms that are associated with imprisonment or torture. For example, “Ottiyanam”isan ornamental belt meant to show off the figure of the bride. However, paired with a ball and chain, it is now a crippling accessory.
These objects of beauty and tradition have tarnished under the rules and expectations that come from being Tamil. They represent the conflict I feel in craving the beauty of my culture yet wanting to be free from its binds.
Although art is something that is constantly evolving by the adaptation of the mediums, it is also something that consistently looks to its past as a way to redefine the standard set by the masters. Throughout history, artists have been looking to their predecessors for inspiration and guidance, no matter how many centuries apart they may be.