by Sukanya GargSep 02, 2019
To grow up in a post-colonisation country is to grow up knowing the deeply etched marks left by the trade activity over the decades. In India, our salt, thread, pigment and spices, each have been transformed over the years into a symbol of our history - for better or for worse. It guides contemporary culture today, driving young countries with newfound freedom towards the reclamation of their native heritage. While this remains a subculture, the overtones of colonisation are not missed in the globalisation of marketplaces either and in many cases are simply replicated in a modern avatar. Has anything really changed at all over the last few thousand years of human life?
Anna Boghuigian explores the world around her through the medium of travel, engaging with it and unraveling its layers through the medium of art. With over 50 years of work as an artist, Boghuigian has developed a close relationship with beeswax, using it in abundance through her repertoire. The artist describes her discovery of the material saying, “My concept of using wax started with Crayonex. I used Crayonex extensively. I used to burn either the Crayonex on the surface of the paper or burned the tip of Crayonex while drawing. At art school I was told to use a double boiler and melt the crayons. As the technique is complex and I did not have the organisation, I did not continue on using a double boiler but one day I found bee wax in a store next to pigment, and next to gum Arabic, I mixed it all in a frying pan and used a small heater for heat. The colours became transparent and luminous and bee became a crucial inspiration. Without bees we would not survive, the bee is the symbol of life. The technique is very old and was used to paint the funerary portraits of Fayyum during the Ptolemaic period”. Beeswax is a versatile material used by native tribes across the world, including India, for daily applications as well as medical. It is slowly gaining popularity with industrial applications as well, proving to be a non-toxic and eco-friendly alternative to synthetics.
At Boghuigian’s latest exhibition - A Short Long History - at S.M.A.K in Belgium, she shares a body of work which results from research and documentation spanning the time she spent in Ghent tracing the cultural and political history of cotton. While Ghent imported a large amount of its cotton in the 18th century from countries like West Indies and United States of America, it later grew to be a major manufacturer of the textile in the 19th century. Its expansion in this sector benefitted many but had an adverse effect on others. Boghuigian’s work is an exploration of the interconnectedness between object and history, present reality and past materiality.
The artist excavates these hidden threads of data through a process of immersive research combined with an intuition for the nature of human life. She says, “The brain fills the blanks. The unknown can also be stimulating a discovery rather than fear. We never know how and what the future holds. We do not know either the hidden parts of the world, actions that are never discussed to clarify situations, the truth may come out one day or maybe never. History may be written and re-written according to the needs of the time. The hero in one continent can be the villain in another. So, the line is the infinite music tune of the movement in time and space”.
An artist informed by her surrounding communities, Boghuigian’s work places emphasis on the unmistakable influence of historical and political factors on our collective culture. She discusses the role it plays in her creative practice saying, “Somehow everything in life is attached to politics, depending how we view a situation. If I take a certain landscape or a building or an agricultural product and continue on my search to its end, there will be a situation of power of governments or philosophical issue relating to politics. If I take the industrial revolution and a very simple beautiful plant of cotton, what has happened because of it and the cotton clothes I wear, a whole historical-geographical situation arises making out of people and humanity puppets to the few and the governing force. When I spice my dish with salt and pepper, the story of colonialism, of global exploration is dug into, continents are explored and tribes massacred for certain spices, for lands to be occupied that grow those spices. Everything has a history and that history makes the world that we live in. At the end the world weaves into episodes of human behaviours that are related and intertwined, it grows infinitely, transforms the human condition and behaviour, how far humans are free, the dark horizon is painted pink by the few who rule and who have the economic power of the world.
When paintings or drawings are on the wall, they are stiff, stagnant and fixed but if cut and mounted on wood, they are moving objects and the line becomes infinite as does human history or politics of today. Yesterday is history, today is the play of power. The fragility of the paper or the lace quality of cut outs to accentuate the negative and positive spaces create a feeling of fragility and the whole creates strength of an episode. The flow is like the flow of time and movement of the world, with the times whether against or with the benefit of humanity, as a whole or part of it is the issue to be explored. The viewer can travel through the cut outs of some parts of history, where there are time gaps, gaps in historical information”.
A Short Long History will be on display at S.M.A.K. Ghent, Belgium, until February 21, 2021.