by Sukanya DebMar 08, 2022
The unsaid minimalism runs around the works of the performance artists, lest the immersive audience loses its attention from the subtle unfolding of the central theme of the art piece. Each of the artists brings a new meaning to the iteration of minimalism with their work. The experiential minimalism in the performance and video works of the Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur is heightened against the presence of the bright hues and pop-aesthetics.
For the contemporary artist Vatanajyankur, hailing from Thailand, it is hard to turn a blind eye to the Buddhist way of life that reinforces the importance of abstinence and endurance. The traces of spirituality can be seen, but nowhere overpower the layered works of Vatanajyankur that are a commentary on the social inequality and gender disparity running deep inside the social fabric of Thailand. Her performance, Knit, brings to the fore the dire conditions under which labourers, especially women, work in the thriving silk industry. During her performance, she comes in out of the long red yarn around 12 white poles structured in an oval shape. For her performance, she does not choose the insides of the museum, but it is performed inside the luxurious Peninsula Hotel: a jibe on the duality within the industry of tourism: glitter against the gloom, abundance against paucity.
In an interview with STIR, Vatanajyankur talks about her take on feminism through her art practice: “As a female artist focusing on female power and equality, the most essential tools in creating a body of artworks are research interviews and life experiences with the female workers who are exploited and mistreated, waiting for their voices and rights to be heard. By making performative video works about the female power, the video is a documentation of my real-life experience and performance during that specific time and environment, where my own body is being objectified and merged within the tool and being treated as a continuing and working tool or machine. This action brings hidden labour work into the light, brings what happens behind closed factory doors into an open space for the public to see. I believe that the actions in my work signify their endurance and give values to their everyday work and labour and hopefully, the work is the trojan horse into equality”.
From the stifling working conditions for women in Thailand, Vatanajyankur with her series Tools sensitises viewers towards the shrinking spaces for women in their domestic world, where they chiefly operate. In any conventional society, the identity of a woman does not go beyond the filial relations of a daughter, wife and a mother. The objects that ease the daily chores for a woman in her home are turned into a tool of sarcastic humour on the patriarchal way of operations in the hands of Vatanajyankur. Her body becomes the dynamic sculpture that bears the burden of these tools. An extension of her identity, the tools are in sync with the body where the latter finds it difficult to draw a line of separation from the external burden of the objects.
The artist pays equal importance to the immersive art experience through her works along with the conceptual undertaking of her performance. Explaining the same, Vatanajyankur says, “I believe that it is about giving the audience experiences as they are viewing and perceiving the work of art. For example, as a video and performance artist, my installation aims to bring the audience into a world new to them, a world of human-machines, a world that exists in reality but is being buried behind the closed doors. Once the audience is introduced into that strange world and experience, then their experience, thoughts and interpretations through the artwork are communicated to my way of conceiving the artworks”. She pins her hopes to the fact that, “after their experience, there will be a slight shift of mindsets that are driven by power and endurance of these labourers and by equality and equity.”
Since Vatanajyankur’s performance and video art is a critique on the social and economic inequality, it might be argued that the mediums are a reflection of her vantage position, which is not easily accessible to many. Subsequently, one cannot shy away from the fact that her works are part of a society where the discussions on the need for parity among the genders are indeed doing the rounds in an unprecedented way. Before the wheels of change actually seem to put into practice what is preached, the works of the artists such as Vatanajyankur will continue to carry deep resonance with the audience.