Interview: Symrath Patti
Luca Curci talks with Symrath Patti during FUTURE LANDSCAPES, third appointment of BORDERS Art Fair 2020, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello and THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
My work takes the form of narratives and I shape them with light, a poetic harmony with a personal twist. All my works deal with being Black/South Asian in Britain. I studied Fine Art at Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Metropolitan University). My practice is primarily mixed media and video. In my own practice, I have dealt with issues concerning space, representation invisibility and visibility, dealing with racism and sexism within a cultural framework of living, studying, and working in England. My work has always dealt with issues of representation and the creation of a dialogue between cultures. Namely, in work that deals with being an Asian Sikh woman in Britain, I deal with class and caste, utilizing women as central figures within my work to explore identity and representation. Through my practice, I posit that the site of the Asian/Black female body is a male, colonial construct. We are constantly seen within a given stereotype. I am responding to the lived experience of an intergenerational reinforcement of images of Asian women, which portrays and perpetuates the idea of us as silent victims, individuals who have marriages arranged for them, framed eternally as exotic and as part of the orientalist gaze. I have found that I have always been caught on the peripheries since the work deconstructs notions of Asian culture dealing with the colonial and post-colonial dialogue I try and address notions of being black and British. This experience can lead to being disenfranchised and alienated by the art world.
Luca Curci – What are you currently working on?
Symrath Patti – I’m currently working on an exhibition for the Muse Gallery for October 2021. The work is around images of Punjabi men and women. It will be a new video with interviews poetry and collages.
LC – What is your creative process like?
SP – My inspiration always came from Black and Asian forms, culturally specific iconography, language, customs values religion this defined me as a Black artist. I am from Indian background my history informed the work and continues to do so. In the ’80s, I worked and campaigned against racism and women’s rights at the time grew up with the anti-Nazi league, Southall monitoring group and other campaign groups that dealt with issues of racism, domestic violence and feminism. I was working as an art development officer for an Asian women’s art group, here curated Jagrati an exhibition of Asian women artists. This involved setting up the Citizens Gallery with local authority funding. To date I believe it is the largest exhibition that has shown British Asian women’s work: 13 artists took part.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
SP – My experience of education at Leeds is the first example of racism faced through the establishment. In the ’80s and ’90s, in the Foremost Marxist course, racism and sexism prevailed: three black students were failed and feminists were all blocked and marked; there was an investigation by the education authority into the course. But it was here that learned about what really means to Asians and black in education. In the second year, I went to Wolverhampton to the first black art events where I met other black artists including Keith Piper and Eddie Chambers. The context now is still about racism and sexism but it’s more sophisticated. In the 80’s visibility, representation and inclusion were sought. Now as Kobena Mercer puts it “seemingly released from the burden of representation, black artists now enjoy a sense of permission that contrasts with the gravitas associated with the frontier-effects of intuitional racism of fifteen years ago”. He goes on to say that this new freedom for expression and excess visibility associated with multicultural exhibitionism and corporate internationalism was offset by a mute evasive positioning by younger artists who did not feel responsible for blackness that was increasingly hypervisible in the global market of multicultural commodity fetishism”.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
SP – All my work explores the textures of our imagination and cultural psychic space that is my material. In making the images, I am confronting the relationship between the subject and the meanings attached to them in a given community. All works explore post-colonial gender issues and the framing of women and men in a cultural space. My subject matter has always explored being part of the Asian community. Women in my work are a sign trace of grief mourning a struggle for purity. I am looking to define a notion of the self or search and deconstruct a spiritual ideal of what our role is and how it’s defined through history. I do feel Asian men are misunderstood. Being a feminist, I do not see men as the enemy.
LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artwork presented been created for the festival or as a part of preexisting works?
SP – In this piece men dress up as women. They were gay men and heterosexuals. Basically, these men were looking and searching for themselves. They are gay and straight but dressed up as Rani Queens. These men take on a persona that goes back to history. I am fascinated by how the female form is taken on.