Zoya Siddiqui's portraits of strangers speak of private and public domains
At the India Art Fair 2018, Shrine Empire will present Loop by Zoya Siddiqui, a performative audio-visual experiment that investigates the dissonance between represented space and experienced space. Zoya uses photography and video in her practice to capture incidence of encounter and the inadequacy in representation of memory and identity.
Loop stems from an interest in exploring the intersectionality between video and space, whilst investigating the boundary of physical experience in time and body. Through the illusion of a contained world wherein a recorded performance loops nonstop, the work seeks to demarcate the space and time inhabited by the viewer from the performing body.
A graduate from Beaconhouse, Lahore, Siddiqui is currently a Fulbright scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. We caught up for a chat with the artist, leading up to the India Art Fair 2018.
Tell us a little about the artworks that you will be showing at the Art Fair this year. Is there an underlying message in your works that you wish to share with viewers?
Zoya Siddiqui: I am showcasing two photo series at the IAF booth with Shrine Empire this year, called “Blind Views” and “Public Views”. The two series are a result of my interest in engaging with public(s), within the public and the private domain. These are stranger portraits, but also documentations of my photographic process and the distance between myself and the strangers.
“Blind Views” was executed in Upstate New York whereas “Public Views” was done in Lahore. Additionally, I have a solo artist project “Loop”, at the independent projects’ section. The latter is a project that works with video-mapping and illusion and looks at spatial distances, time and the body.
How do you perceive artworks that make a political statement? Would you like to produce more pertinent, and politically charged artworks as a part of your practice?
ZS: I believe that all artwork is inherently political – we are all inevitably a part of social relations and power dynamics. Everything produced is politically pertinent, since it reveals those dynamics, whether the artist does it consciously or not. However, I am still not sure if I am interested in politics as aesthetics. I am aware however that my practice, which attempts to document social/physical distances, has political undercurrents.
Give us your overview, of the rise in political art over the last few years, as you have been witnessing it - as a viewer, and as an artist. Would you like to see more artists making powerful works with a socially relevant message?
ZS: It is difficult to trace out a political trajectory in recent times, or to historicise practices in the current moment. Moreover, each city is producing its own aesthetics that may or may not have global overlaps, with further divisions within. To say that there has been a rise in political art is contestable, in my opinion. However, like I stated, everything is political, and artists should be critical and aware of that.
Give us your take on the idea that "All art is political in the sense that it engages society in some way, either influencing or influenced by it." Would you agree with this thought? And does this apply to your own practice?
ZS: Yes, I do agree with this, and it does apply to my practice as well. I am always interested in the idea of distances (social and physical) and the possibility of access or bridging the gap (through public engagement, my camera etc). These are inherently political notions.
What, according to you, is political art - in essence?
ZS: I believe political art is that which explores difference, hierarchy, power, social relations etc. It may do that through any form, be it performance or protest. I do believe that ethics in this exploration are important, and that the artist be cognizant of their own social position in relation to everything.
Is it essential for artists to make politically charged works, to possibly gain larger visibility?
ZS: I believe visibility for an artist is contingent on many other factors, such as the market, socio-economic conditions etc. Therefore, a work may be politically charged but also less visible. Regarding responsibility, I do feel that it is the artist’s burden to be critically aware of society and also the repercussions of their own work, but not a necessary burden for her/him to have overtly political motivations.
How would you like to encourage further discussions on art among larger groups of people, and possibly extend art appreciation in a more inclusive, rather than exclusive manner?
ZS: The aesthetics and language of a project that desires to be accessible/inclusive must emerge from the people. For such a project, I believe the institution of galleries, museums etc. also need to be challenged. There is a lot of interesting work being done in public spaces now, for example the Awami Art Collective in Lahore.
There are many contemporary artists addressing concerns of racism, identity, power struggles, and empowerment, among other issues. How effective do you believe their attempts are, to produce artworks that make a difference? How do you believe these artists need to be supported more?
ZS: An artist working politically may not produce change necessarily, but she may dream of it or at least produce the hope or trigger for it. The Awami Art Collective for instance, mentioned earlier, created an installation in Jinnah Bagh in Lahore, listing the deaths of marginalised Shia community through sectarian violence. The list triggered people to stop and read, think and contemplate. The work may not have ended sectarian violence, but it affected people who encountered it, in the hope for a ripple. The effectiveness of a political work is therefore unknowable, but it might be increased by helping artists gain visibility through infrastructural support from art or other institutions.
In the last few years, we have also seen the rise of varied forms of art - spanning performance, video, installations, street theatre, poetry and even music, especially of the folk kind. How would you like to see all these art forms coming together, to make more of an impact not just for the sake of contemporary art, but for a larger social cause?
ZS: Each art form comes with its own potentials, language and experience. Music caters to an auditory experience, with its own power, whereas performance mostly deals with real-time presence. As viewers, we are quite acclimatized to each form, with its viewing expectations etc. The recent growing interest in experimental and interdisciplinary forms in contemporary art is great to shake up our habits of viewing, and carries potential for greater impact. Whether it is done overtly with a social motivation or not, it would inevitably affect socially. I am content with that idea.
There's the final question about balancing the aspects of aesthetics, beauty and taste, with technique and skill. How important is it, in your view, for a powerful work of art to also be visually, and artistically pleasing and beautiful - perhaps, to emphasise the underlying message?
ZS: I believe it is the artist’s own choice, whatever serves her best, to work with any aesthetic decision, be it visual allure or conceptual rigour.
Zoya Siddiqui will present Loop, supported by Shrine Empire, at the India Art Fair in New Delhi, February 9-12.