The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Seeing Identity through Art

Saadia Peerzada, Undergraduate Batch of 2022

The basic human acts of talking about our differences, asking questions respectfully, and being acceptive of identities that differ from ours is getting lost as we begin to see people through a socially prevalent bias. This vacuum over time serves as a fertile ground for partisan politics and dehumanization.

In an effort to revive the conversations about our differences in a more considerate and inclusive way, I asked Ashokans spanning various nationalities, religions, and sexualities to share a piece of art that they’ve either created or come across which reflects their identity.  

Surabhi, UG22: “Chella Man, a deaf, genderqueer, trans man sees art as a way of survival for him. He has never seen people like him in mainstream media, so he looks into the mirror and creates art that represents him in a world where he can easily be pushed to the margins.”

Krithi, UG22: “I’ve been crazy about art from a very young age and this project really got me thinking about how I would view myself artistically. Patterns are an integral part of me and using different mediums to create them enabled me to explore more techniques. This process has kindled a fire within me to know who I truly am; in essence, it is the beginning of my journey to self-discovery.”

Siddharta Sreenivas, UG22: “The piece itself is rough and makeshift and is made of half-finished ideas and thoughts in progress because I feel like my identity is still very much in flux now. I used half-crumpled paper and rough strokes to capture the work-in-progress feeling because I don’t think my identity is at a stage of a finished piece of art. I’ve depicted a mask flowing out of what was originally supposed to be a flower pot but became a washbasin instead because a pot would be too organic, the basin with all its modern connotations comes closer to expressing me. It is also a cold, impersonal symbol of civilization.”

Irtiza, UG22: “Hafsa Khizer wonders about her identity in this piece, about longing to find a home in people she loves, learning to be her own keeper, planting flower seeds in her mind, lighting candles in her ribcage, and letting a breeze into her chest. What makes me identify with this painting is her statement: ”Others are blessings, only visitors, not homes.” The relationship we share with people depends on the energies we offer to humans. Once we start relying on each other’s energies, we want more. When that is unavailable, swayed by the dust of distance, it demands a lot from you to rebuild the broken Lego house of emotion you once had. Your own inner self who you go to sleep with every night is the one who knows you. Keep it sane.”

Charvi, UG22: “A canvas is a place where you express yourself through colours. Similarly, I express myself through my body, by what I wear, and what kind of makeup I put on. Whether it is painting a smile on your face or the laughter lines along the eyes, everything is an expression.”

Pai, UG21: “This piece by artist Kyaw Gyi shows Bagan, the place where the first civilization of Burma flourished. Everything that defines who we are — culture, religion, music, dressing, food and lifestyle of our people, were all born in this place. We can’t forget about Bagan when we talk about identity.”

Jubakshi, UG22: “Manjit Gogoi, through this vivid painting, beautifully illustrates the Assamese culture and identity. North-Eastern Indian identity is too often side-lined and invisiblized in our generic narratives of Indian history. The greenery in the background representing the lush green tea gardens perfectly complements the traditional hand-woven Gamusa surrounding the rest of the subjects. A significant part of Assamese identity is the intimate relationship between man and nature; more specifically, between man and agriculture. Bihu, which is celebrated thrice a year, is centred around the agricultural seasons, and the Bihu dance and music comprises a significant part of the festival. Lastly, Assamese folks take great pride in the Ahom Dynasty (represented here in the Rang Ghar), and especially in great men like Sukhrungphaa and Lachit Borphukan.” 

Tanya, UG22: “Jahan Ara painted the viral picture of an Afghan girl living in a Pakistani refugee camp. I find myself reflected in her facial features. On learning that I’m from Afghanistan, the first reaction from people is shock and their flinching shows me how much they associate violence with my identity, forgetting that 33,000 innocent Afghans have been killed for no fault of theirs, that we are the daily victims and not the perpetrators of violence, and that the people who are spreading mass-scale destruction face the most resistance from us. My identity is more than the widely-held beliefs about my nationality.”

As for me, the increasing discourse on equal wages, freedom of choice, and safer workplaces, while none on the hypocrisy of not allowing women the right to modesty, be it in their clothes or absence from social media, seems a negation of my identity and millions of others worldwide. As Aaishan Khan, Kashmiri artist, puts it clearly, “It is not only unincluded in such women upliftment discussions but are considered in contrast to Women Empowerment itself…But if we truly want Empowerment of Women, it has to be inclusive and not just convenient.” If our feminist ideals exclude women based on their race, religion, sexuality or caste, then we need to rethink them. 

Instead of letting the wheel of prejudice run perpetually, conscious efforts to educate oneself on how popular media and discourse is reductive towards certain individuals and distortive towards their identity can prevent inhumane laws and behaviours from becoming a norm. Looking outside our own circles and exposing ourselves to the art, literature, and company of people who may seem different widens our perspectives from the narrow bubbles we often reside in and helps ask if generalizations based on impersonal information leads us anywhere at all.

The author is a Staff Writer for the Arts and Culture section of The Edict

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