The show titled Open Circle: Belonging, Self and Community Care explored the notion of care from a broad, creative spectrum. From an extremely individual and intimate association to the self, to that of a collective existence. Ranging from esoteric belief systems and spirituality, memory, and its tangible forms to a lived reality.

Each work showed a strong grounding in respective narratives, given that the collection of artistic interpretations justified the title of show. This was curated by Pallavi Sharma, artist, writer, and poet. It looked at artists whose creative trajectories either circled or partially addressed the focus of the show. Majority of the artists are based in the Bay Area. Given the focus of the publishing space, the current review shall focus on the works presented by artists of Indian origin. 

 Nirmala Raja, My Father’s Journal, 2022, Digitally printed fabric pillows and sari yarn, 35” x 24” x 24”.

Namita Paul’s works weave together fragments of personal and national history. She builds from the material memory of a childhood home, now lost. A space of refuge for her grandparents, as they bore the scars of Partition in 1947. She tries to recreate the physical space while weaving through memories, recollected as personal experiences. She expands the extent of memories by drawing from her other family members too, rebuilding a collective past. The austere surface of the work, and with a minimalist stance, she retracts specificities of events. Thereby, opening multiple possibilities of the viewers to engage within in, over a set story. A sensitivity builds up, as Paul employs traditional embroidery skills in piecing memory, individuals, spaces, and loss. At the same time, Paul grants a space of respect to the artist Zarina Hashmi, through a relatable past and expressive necessities.

While Paul builds from the larger fragments of memory, Nirmala Raja addresses specific happenings of her personal life. Reading a self-identity as an immigrant, the aspect of transience addresses her creative processes immensely. The physical spaces of movement, and of the presence and absence of individuals, provide an impetus. She relates the same to the aspects of personal loss, especially of the people. Having lost close ones in the recent part, she builds on recovery and care as a solitary process. She reads the funerary ritualistic practice as acts of healing, bringing about mental closures. At the same time, she attempts to go beyond the ephemeral, through objects that are left behind. Raja builds her installation with objects and clothing of the departed ones, as tangible remnants. The work then rereads the notion of utilitarian ubiquity as it transforms into a pile of memory. The artist sensitively conjures the work while carefully holding the mental spaces of the past.

Namita Paul, Summer. After Zarina, Canvas, thread, gold leaf, 36 x 36, 2022.

The current works exhibited by Barnali Ghosh are fed by her multiple engagements. These were conceptualized and executed over the span of the pandemic. Ghosh interprets this time as one when people made attempts at learning new skills or catering to interests, otherwise overlooked.

These works speak of her engagement with exploring the native Californian flora and Indian textile design elements. She augments the visual quotient by weaving the element of the Odissi dance. Her intention was to take photos of herself dressed like California native flowers. She also intended to share stories of the native landscapes prior to European colonization. Barnali weaves aesthetic practices and history, while associating herself within the larger picture of the pandemic and care.

Another aspect of the exploration of the self can be witnessed in Shailly Sharma Bhatnagar’s works. She aims at reading desires, not as the cause of dissatisfaction and distresses, but to connect to oneself. Relating it to its philosophical viewing, she tries to give a different dimension of self and acceptance. Bhatnagar highlights examples reflecting lust and desire. Some ranging from its endlessness to those of self-control and strength. Deeming it as a natural and innate feeling, the artist relates to it in a form of a life cycle.

Barnali Ghosh, California Bleeding Heart…It’s a Feeling, Photograph, 24×24, 2021.

The Collaborative Artwork, titled Take Care, addressed an important aspect of youth through multiple sensitivities. The work was conceptualized and executed by Mishel Rahman, Chaitanya Verma, Naina Verma, Vaani Uppal, and coordinated by Chaitanya Verma. Interestingly, considering an open school locker as a site of activity and hibernation of intense thoughts. A space of personal possession, a locker here redefines safe space within a larger shared world. Not as a mere utilitarian one, but as an inseparable part of the self, a rooting ground. At the same time, carrying evidence of emotions and experiences. Ranging from personal to societal pressures, fears, happiness, and layers of complexities inevitably linked to youth and adulthood.

The other participating artists were Lydia Nakashima Degarrod, Reiko Fujii, Betty Nobue Kano, Kathy Fujii-Oka, Irene Wibawa, Manon Wada, and Maggie Yee.

The show was on view at the Lindsay Dirkx Brown Gallery in San Ramon, CA 94583.