Today we’d like to introduce you to Jaya Kang.
Jaya, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in India and have moved around a lot since then. I lived in a rural town in Punjab for the first half of my childhood and then moved to New Delhi for the latter. That always gave me a lot of perspective on knowing that the world is way bigger and diverse than just your immediate surroundings. My family then moved to The Netherlands and I went away to do a foundation year in England. Stepping away from my country gave me the space to evaluate so many parts of my identity that were built around many colonial ideals.
I realised that after being raised in a country that was under British rule for over 150 years, we never learned to take pride in ourselves as much as we do in our ability to assimilate to western cultures. A consistent way for me to understand these complexities was through practicing art. I started practicing photography at around seven after my grandfather gave me my first Kodak film camera. From there, I found myself sewing clothes and working with textiles and illustrating on paper. My way of understanding things about myself and the world always was in the form of non-conventional materials.
Eventually, I began studying Fine Art at the California Institute of the Arts, where I truly began fostering a new way of thinking and unlearning assimilation. My art practice for the last four years has been tackling the issues that surround the identity formation of women of color, the direct co-relation of colonialism to environmental decay and a lack of cultural diversity and how these many interrelated forces are systematically suppressing marginal bodies.
Has it been a smooth road?
The process of making art is never smooth. Choosing a field of study that is known to not have any monetary returns any time soon, and that doesn’t guarantee any jobs was a battle to begin with. But I know myself, I know that the only times I excel are times when I am doing something I love. So finding the motivation not in financial stability but something that contributes to the rupture of the systems of inequality is an easy choice on most days but on days where my practice feels stagnant, and the world seems un-open, it’s hard to push through. I am often reminded when I step into art institutions and museums that my peers may be ready to have conversations of decolonizing but institutions are not.
The world at general, is not ready to give space to more people of colour and to hear the perspectives of non-western voices. Art has historically been a field that has only given value to white male artists, it wasn’t until the 70’s when another voice was even starting to be considered, let alone be given the same value- culturally and financially. So trying to enter this space as a young Indian woman, is very intimidating. I have to remind myself that there is importance in the conversations I am bringing into art and academia. I find myself having to explain the language, symbols and signs I am using that people haven’t been exposed to because that sort of representation hasn’t existed in art before, but I am hoping I am laying a base for future artists of colour.
We’d love to hear more about your art.
I am an artist and my materials always rely on what the concept of my project is. I most often find myself creating installations with video, performance, textiles, sculpture, poetry and found materials. I recently just finished my thesis project titled ‘Seeking’, it was a solo exhibition at one of the galleries at Calarts. It was centred around a poem I wrote that goes over the history of India through the perspective of a woman from Punjab. It describes how the many hierarchies and social structures are in place today and the many factors that lead to it.
In my work I call to a radial break in the system by defying what is imposed on you. I look into marriage as a way to do this. Marriage and childbirth are the all defining moments for a woman in Indian culture, specifically marriage into certain castes and classes as a way to retain and maintain social power through your choice of partner. I am looking into ways how we can radicalize this act as a way to create breaks in the hierarchical systems. The conversations of exploring intimacy and choice of partners is something that doesn’t happen in art and academia very often, its uncomfortable and private.
However, it is where your political and overall ideologies are heavily practiced, and so I am trying to bring attention to these choices. I am using materials and symbols from Punjab, and from India, and placing them in western institutional spaces, and expanding the colonial art vocabulary. I often do performances in institutions, I recently did some at The Fowler Museum, LACMA and at The Getty. I adopt many personas in these to take up space in these institutions that often exclude the perspectives of women of colour and thus contribute to the direct anticolonial art and political movement.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles has a very diverse art world. The city itself has so many different cultures and I do think that the art that is made here reflects that, more so than any other city I have ever been in. Specifically, here at Calarts, I was able to work with people that want to foster and give space to marginal voices. I’ve worked with the Getty as well that is an institution that tries to create a lot of opportunities for young artists. There are so many little art spaces that are trying to break the institutional sameness and provide a space for diverse voices. I definitely think Los Angeles has very strong multicultural art practices.
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @jayakang and @jayakangart
Photos taken by- Brooklynn Curtis-White