June 2019 Artist in Residence: Priya Kambli

Aaji and Me, 2018

Aaji and Me, 2018

Priya Kambli received her BFA at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and an MFA from the University of Houston. She is currently Professor of Art at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

One of her most significant accomplishments was receiving the Book Award through PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass for her series Color Falls Down, published in 2010. This series marked her maturing as an artist and was conceived shortly after her first child, her son Kavi, was born. It inadvertently examines the question asked by Kavi at age three; did she belong to two different worlds, since she spoke two different languages? The essence of his question continues to be a driving force in her art making.

Kambli’s artwork has been well received, having been exhibited, published, collected and reviewed in the national and international photographic community. The success of Kambli’s work underlines the fact that she is engaged in an important dialogue, and reinforces her intent to make work driven by a growing awareness of the importance of many voices from diverse perspectives and the political relevance of our private struggles.

Q&A with Priya Kambli, interviewed by Noëlle Pouzar

Your work is beautifully autobiographical. How do you approach the vulnerability that goes into making work deeply rooted in personal narrative?

Thank you. While my need to decipher and address my family photographs is personal, my work has always touched upon universal themes, with the potential to start a dialogue about cultural differences and universal similarities. In the last few years those private references and broad themes have taken on a new public significance that requires a creative response. My work aims to use the lens of memory to provide a personal perspective on the fragmentation of family, identity, and culture that are part of the migrant experience. In my work personal is political, so, yes being vulnerable is essential. This is a pivotal moment in my practice just as it is for the fabric of our society. As significant forces try to dismiss the concerns of those who are perceived as different, the need to present a variety of perspectives is simply more urgent. By sharing our stories, we can appreciate our differences but also realize that our common humanity and stories tie us together.

Tell us more about your current series, Buttons for Eyes, which addresses memory, loss, and migration. What is the process like when manipulating your archived family photos? How do you choose which images to work with?

Play is an integral and intuitive part of my creative process, especially in Buttons for Eyes. In this series I use light’s mercurial nature as a sign of both the unpredictable and the transformational. Here, I envision the work as tapping into subversive reserves of creative play as opposed to a more didactic approach. I want to create images that wink, poke, and invert the past and the present - suggesting joyousness mixed with the loss and regret that accompanies us all.

I choose images based on the overarching narrative I have for the series, but also purely on intuitive whim.

Mouths (Breaux’s Studio), 2017

Mouths (Breaux’s Studio), 2017

As a mixed-media artist, how do you choose which medium will become the dominating factor in a series? How do these different mediums bring cohesiveness to your work?

My general approach while exploring content is to combine labor intensive practice with playful experimentation. In my artwork, I gravitate towards using materials like flour, flowers, rice, etc. that are humble and grounded in everyday use to create patterns - the infinitely variable warp and weave of Indian culture - as a means of obscuring and revealing in a manner suggestive of memory and loss. I use these patterns as a means of fenestration – obscuring the image while revealing underlying structures.

What questions keep arising as you make work based on memory? What questions seem to never have an answer?

The act of mining an archive of images has been central to my work throughout my career, focusing on the collection of family photographs brought with me to the United States. But my initial intention, which was to forge a relationship with my parents has shifted to focus more on publicly resolving issues relating to migration and the challenges of cross-cultural understanding.

In the series, Buttons for Eyes my concerns for the past that is lost to me will still be apparent, but so will my concern for the future and the losses that will come. Inevitably I too, or at least my experience as a migrant, will become mythologized by my children and then by their children. Making artwork about the past is a way of creating a first draft of the present as well.

Finally, creating for the future what our forebears made for us gives this work additional artistic significance. I treasure my archives of family photographs and intend to create artwork that will compel future viewers to hold, examine, and cherish it.

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

I will print editions of my series Button for Eyes and working on sequencing and finishing up the series.

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to that we should check out?

I am currently researching my new project, so I am consuming everything I can in reference to this project.

A brief statement about the new work: My year of birth (1975) and the year I migrated to United States (1993) are both marked with political turmoil in India. In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called for an emergency, which was issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution. They termed it as "internal disturbance" that lasted 21 long months beginning June 25, 1975 and going on until March 21, 1977. It was India’s third and final state of emergency since its Independence was marked with censorship imposed on the press, cinema, and other forms of art.

On March 12, 1993 the day of my 18th birthday and the year I emigrated to United States, a series of 12 bomb explosions that took place in my city Mumbai, India. The single-day attacks resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries. The intent of the new body of work is to weave together the political unrest in India with my own story of loss and change.

What’s your favorite spot in Chicago that inspires you?

Definitely by the lake. I grew up in Mumbai, by the ocean, and I miss living by the water. I will be staying in Rogers Park during my stay in Chicago and I hope to visit the lake as often as I can.

View more of Priya Kambli’s work.

AIR 2019Colleen Keihm