by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
As an individual with a diasporic identity, one often questions the notion of migration, displacement, time and space. Born in Tanzania, and now based out of England, Lubna Chowdhary puts to rest these open-ended questions through her world of defined geometric forms, pop blazing colours and psychedelic parallel lines. She infuses the very idea of migration into a rather modest term - Erratics. The title Erratics refers to large rocks or boulders that have been displaced from their original geological context through glacial flows. While retaining their material integrity they are permanently settled in a new, alien context. Often travelling between the UK, Pakistan and India, Chowdhary creates a body of works that echo the sentiment of the South Asian diaspora.
Chowdhary’s Erratics stages her largest solo exhibition till date. True to the idea of displacement, 'the travelling show’ was earlier showcased at PEER Gallery in East London and is now housed within a centre of contemporary discourses, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). Thus, the idea of migration and displacement underpins Chowdhary’s oeuvre.
Chowdhary’s art introduces moments of hybridity into facets of art, design and architecture. They hold an independent voice in the contemporary arts scene – singular, adept and joyful. Currently at a critical moment in her practice, the art demonstrates a skilled approach as she draws multiple references to diverse cultures and times. Her works create dialogues between various visual languages and cultural references from both Northern Europe and South Asia. Sharing the inspiration behind this visual language, Chowdhary shares, “I synthesise myriad sources, inspirations and references, ranging from precious anthropological artefacts to mass produced commodities and architecture, both modern and pre-modern, and other industrially and manually produced design objects.”
Deeply rooted in the foundations of vernacular design, the showcase ranges in scale and scope. These range from erratically scaled such as eclectic wooden furniture and a maze of industrial pipes to a toy-like township of mini architectural structures and glazed ceramic tiled pieces.
One of the many highlights of this show is a series of three freestanding wooden furniture pieces that redefine the idea of functionality in modern art. The chic artefacts stem from Chowdhary’s 2017 fellowship residency research based on 19th century hybrid colonial furniture - created by Indian craftsmen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Beautifully juxtaposed with the wooden tiled flooring at MIMA, Chowdhary’s wooden pieces echo a cross-cultural expressionism - east meets west - that of European designs executed by Indian makers. “I have always been interested in the exchange of ideas and techniques across global contexts. An awkwardness can arise when we find ourselves between cultures and identities. I try to resist binaries and disrupt the established order in the work I create,” she shares.
Revisiting her initial encounter with the expansive space, Chowdhary shares, “Witnessing the curious sight of Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge on the horizon – there was a sense of familiarity and dialogue opening up. This setting felt like an invitation to draw on the language and iconography of heavy industry and to respond to my loyalty to industrial landscapes.” In response to MIMA’s interior architecture, Chowdhary conceptualised a new addition to this collection titled Modular 4. Accentuating the expansive gallery space, this larger-than-life installation, about six-metre by six metre sculpture, is made from silver lagging - a pre- made material used to cover insulation for pipework. “These minimalist geometric structures reference the systems and infrastructures of our built environment. Having trained as a ceramicist and working in craft settings for many years, I continuously highlight relationships between the industrial and hand-crafted,” she adds.
Apart from the monochromatic minimalism and wooden aesthetics, a flush of vibrant reds, yellows, orange and blues liven up the space. These are Chowdhary’s beautifully hand-crafted glazed ceramics that are full of life, vibrancy and emotion. A rather notable shift from three to two dimensions, and large to small scale, Chowdhary’s Certain Times consists of diverse shaped tiles displayed in short linear arrangements on wall mounted shelves. Each piece unique in shape and pattern, when pieced together overlaps into a landscape just like a fragmented skyline or flattened cityscape. She adopts contrasting techniques of industrialised water jet cutting with more traditional hand-applied glazing technique. Thus, Chowdhary’s artistry playfully subverts form and sought a common ground between various binaries: ornamental excess and geometric minimalism, art and craft, indigenous and industrialistic. Chowdhary describes this aesthetic as - “a dislocated aesthetic that supersedes firm categorisation”.
This high energy experience urges the viewers to reflect on the notions of migration, time and space. Her cross-cultural hybrid aesthetics transport the viewers to experience various binaries at the same moment. Her creations are somewhere ‘in-between’ art and architecture - two very important representations of one’s diasporic identity. While this sensorial show continues to leave lasting impressions on audiences, we can’t wait to see Chowdhary unveil her two new projects – a public floorscape at Stratford East Side and the Strange Clay exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in October 2022.
Lubna Chowdhary’s new exhibition of sculptures and installations at MIMA is on view until October 9, 2022 .