Hybrid Creatures: Examining Identity Politics in Diasporic Art

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Tehezeeb Moitra, L'Università degli Studi di Napoli L'Orientale, Italy


    Trying to understand a polymorphous concept like the diaspora is problematic at the very outset. Literature on what comprises the diaspora, what it means, and its implications is still developing, and is as much in a state of movement as those that constitute its definition. To begin to grapple with a concept that resists being bound to a specific demarcation one has to conceive of the diaspora as being fundamentally polyphonous, in a Bhaktinian interpretation of the term, wherein the autonomy of the self, existing within reciprocal connections to the (social) network, stakes a valid claim to an individual reality.The polyphonous nature of the diaspora is frequently undermined, and more often than not the very idea of a diaspora is oftentimes erroneously smothered under a blanket of monological principles that are liberally oversimplified thereby allowing for very little agency and individual expression. One such term that in many ways exemplifies this oversimplification, and has indeed become a particularly favourite buzzword in diasporic parlance is nostalgia. In order to consider this bond, under the conditions of the evolving nature of the diaspora, a changed conceptual language is required. And one has to push the proverbial envelope even further, questioning: what is at stake when one repositions the diaspora/nostalgia relationship in a way that problematizes the understanding of this connection? And furthermore, what are the consequences of such a reordering? The focus of my paper is evidently not to offer a reductive socio-cultural analysis of the interplay between nostalgia and the diaspora but rather to put forth an alternate manner in which one can contextualize that relationship especially in terms of its ramifications as seen in particular works of contemporary South Asian diasporic art. Expressly, I argue that nostalgia inescapably irritates the diasporic consciousness resulting in a series of hybridities that are manifested, through a performative gesture, onto the artwork produced, in a way that raises a whole other set of phenomenological concerns. When I use the term performative gesture with reference to art I use it to suggest a claim of production that stands as a kind of demonstration of specific identity related issues, which in this case pertain to the South Asian diaspora. In a diasporic sense the issue of identity is particularly non-static and amorphous. And so I bring in the concept of nostalgia as a way of investigating the possible reasons and consequences of this instability. Specifically, I propose to use the veneer of nostalgia through which to view artworks by two artists of the South Asian diasporic community- Rina Banerjee and Chitra Ganesh; with the intention of using it as a kind of heuristic device to explore the manifestation of identity politics. My proposal examines the hybrid creature of the Third Space that takes form in an artwork that is self-othered, fetishized and mythologised. Particularly, I seek to investigate how diasporic identities are informed by artworks which are at once deeply rooted in the south-asian consciousness and at the same time lay claims to wider international discourse. The sort of referencing employed by both Banerjee and Ganesh situates each diasporic identity, as it stands sui generis to all else, while at the same time forging a keen dialogue with the commonality of a shared past history, tradition and culture. This pull to a collective past creates a sense of nostalgia that seeks reconciliation in the creation of artwork that like the diaspora itself is deeply challenging and multivalent.