Reflections on Seated Woman

Seated Woman

Its been challenging for me to sit down and write a post following the Seated Woman performance, just as every stage of the process has had its own unique set of challenges. In this type of performance, the work must resolve three distinct media: the body, time, and the audience. I was able to experiment with the body and time, doing a series of “practice” sessions before the performance itself, slowly building my endurance to the full duration of seven and a half hours. However, the work’s relationship to the audience was a complete mystery to me right up until the moment of performing. In this way, durational performance is all about process, as the work is literally being constructed before the audience’s eyes. Each movement, each decision not to move, where and when to gaze, was a learning process, a new discovery.

Seated Woman Time 1

In many ways my relationship to the audience profoundly surprised me. Quite early on, I realized that my presence was having a very deep impact on passerby. I was able to get people on the opposite side of the street to stop as I followed them with my gaze. Cars driving by slowed to look at me. A few young men paused to call out to me from the sidewalk below. I had originally thought that the veil would obstruct this effect, but in many ways it both complicated it and enhanced it. My gaze became a mystery. The viewer suspected that I was looking, but could never really be quite sure.


After the performance, I learned that many viewers saw the headdress as confrontational. That by creating my own space, by protecting myself, I appeared defiant, vaguely threatening. I noticed that many viewers who came up to the terrace to get a closer look were uncomfortable with standing directly in front of me, and would often stand off to the side beyond my range of motion to turn and gaze back at them. I found this really interesting because when I created the headdress, I was thinking of a particular female ancestor (but perhaps also a more abstracted concept of the women in my past who had to survive in order for me to exist) that my grandmother refers to as Aaji. I’ve learned that Aaji (paternal grandmother) is from a dead form of Bhojpuri. The word itself is a spectre, it is both dead, yet alive in my grandmother’s body, and now in mine. For me, this is the heart of the performance, the embodiment of the spectre of the past, the things that are both alive and dead, the reality of our bodies and the objects the museums display.

Seated Woman Audience Interaction

Another aspect that I found interesting was the number of viewers who came up to attempt to speak with me. Like most art objects, I decided that I would not be speaking to viewers, and would instead let the authority of the museum speak for me. I was struck by how many viewers really wanted to know what the piece was “for”– a class? a protest?– and how some viewers were incredibly frustrated that I would not give them an answer. In this way, the piece became a performance of the problem of art itself, that it does not give us easy answers, even when that is what we want the most, and that for some, this denial of resolution is a challenge.

Even though the piece may appear to be a solitary endeavor  it required a lot of people to help it reach fruition  I’m incredibly grateful to the staff at the Fralin Museum for being supportive of the piece, in particular Bruce Boucher and Jennifer Farrell. I’m also so thankful for my students who were able to help with the performance (Danielle Loleng, Taylor Fox, Shantell Bingham, Tiffany Wang, and Chris Lumain), and in particular Scott Ellwood, who took some great images. Thanks to Elizabeth Webb for helping with video documentation and Howard Singerman for his insight on the proposal. Thanks to Eric Schmidt for advice on designing the plinth, and Allie Tisdale for helping me build it. Bill Bennett deserves a big thank you for bringing me to Charlottesville this semester, and helping to get the ball rolling on this project. I’m so happy that my two major life-collaborators, my mother Vijaya Mackrandilal and my partner Sean McConnell, were there to take care of me and support me before, during, and after the performance.

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Seated Woman at UVA



A student snapped this image of me while I was practicing the full duration (7.5 hours) for my upcoming performance at the Fralin Museum of Art this Friday.

I will be performing a seated pose for the duration, remaining silent, and returning the gaze of the viewer. This piece is a continuation of the Lacuna series, in which I engage with the discursive authority of the museum, attempting to “speak back” against its silent, often invisible power. This piece challenges the viewer to re-imagine her/his relationship to the art object or cultural artifact through an understanding of (and perhaps empathy with) the body. Through its duration, the piece challenges the immediacy of contemporary lived experience (and the typical gaze of the contemporary art viewer) and offers an alternative of contemplation and awareness of the body.

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Seated Woman

Seated Woman

Seated Woman

I will be performing a new work in the Lacuna project titled “Seated Woman” for Final Fridays at the UVA art museum.

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An agent in Paris

A friend stopped by the Centre Pompidou and left a Lacuna Card in one of the contemporary art galleries. I’m so happy to think of this card showing up in such unexpected places. Sometimes this work seems so ephemeral that I begin to lose my grasp on it, but thinking of this moment that my friend captured, and imagining this happening hundreds of times, gives me hope that this project will grow into something beautiful and meaningful.

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Lacuna Cards at Ruffin Gallery


My Lacuna Cards are making their official gallery debut at the UVA faculty show this Friday from 5:30-7:30. You can read about the show here. The title of the show is “New Natural History” which isn’t too bad. I’ve invited viewers to come comment on this blog, so hopefully I’ll be getting some reactions to the work.

This print run was 200 of each card, 5 cards in total. The original media of the cards:

Lacuna Card #1 is pen on two layers of tracing paper (based on a photo from A Collecting Odyssey).

Lacuna Card #2 is pencil and watercolor (based on a photo from A Collecting Odyssey).

Lacuna Card #3 is a digital collage of photos on a pen drawing done in the Alsdorf Galleries.

Lacuna Card #4 is a digital collage of a photo on a pen drawing done in the Alsdorf Galleries.

Lacuna Card #5 is a pen drawing done in the Alsdorf Galleries.

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The Context of Antiquity

A little Chicago flavor (Alsdorf to Devon)

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Intervention in Action

So, I’m not a very bold person. But I think I need to take risks with my work, or what’s the point? I can’t imagine that safe art would be particularly interesting. All the artists I admire took incredible risks with their work, were labeled as “crazy” at some point in their careers…

Went to the Art Institute during my lunch break today and planted some postcards:

The first one is in the galleries, the second one is in the bookshop, next to my not-so-favorite author, and the third is super blurry (my hands were shaking at that point) and shows my postcard hanging out with some other Art Institute Postcards.

I included the address for this blog on the postcards, so if anyone finds them, I hope they’ll post in the comments (they are moderated, so it won’t show up right away)

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An Intervention

Just got the first set of cards for my card project (25 for this first print run). My drawing on the front, text I wrote on the back. The plan is to plant these around the museum. I was even thinking of leaving them in the gift shops. Using the language of the museum (commodification of objects and cultures) as a way to insert an alternative narrative into the space. A pretty subtle intervention, but I think it could be effective.

Trying to balance cost-effectiveness with aesthetics. I don’t want them to look cheap, but since they are free I can’t afford to invest a lot of my own money into them. We’ll see.

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Anointing the statue with tumeric

In a state of displacement, the objects in the galleries do not simply represent what they depict, they become placeholders for an entire culture, evidence on view. Within this state they also become representations of their removal and the social, political, and cultural forces that threw them into displacement. They are citizens of a borderland, holding multiple, conflicting identities simultaneously. They are shifting signposts, embodying the history of the world and the realities of the present.

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Schrödinger’s cat

Maybe a bit more about the synergy, the uniqueness, the particular hues of the radiance of the light created by your background, as one of our poets wrote, …  “I remember the laughter and gaiety of my people, the myriad colours of our polyglot races”

I wanted to respond to the above comment my mother left on my “Project Overview” page, because I think it gets to an important part of the project. Even as my body is the embodiment of the fractures of the past, it is also the continuation of my ancestor’s bodies, a testament to their survival, their refusal to be erased. I am intensely proud of this. I want their history to be read on my skin, I want to be a billboard for their identities.

But then there is Schrödinger’s cat. The observer determines reality*. In a state of quantum superposition I am many outcomes simultaneously. Alive/Dead, Black/White, Citizen/Foreigner, infinite possibilities collapse into one reality in the mind of the other. Here I am stripped of my agency. I am quantified, filed into the appropriate category, not the category I chose, the category chosen for me.

I need to search for a strategy to remain in that state of suspention before observation, to exist as multiple things simultaneously, to be alive and dead, black and white, citizen and foreigner. A true polyglot never has to choose, never has to take sides or prove loyalty. Without that freedom there is no joy. So perhaps this project is about turning a space that presents as authorative into a space of questioning, into the black lead box before the moment of observation, the moment when the cat is both alive and dead.

*yes, it is more complicated than this, but, bear with me, this is a blog about art anyway

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