Contemporary Art From The Desi Diaspora

Each year since 2004 the Indo-American Arts Council has put on an exhibition of contemporary art called Erasing Borders that focuses on Indian diaspora artists. News of the exhibit is always an introduction to some cool new art that I’ve never seen before. This year’s showing of 29 artists, exhibiting through the end of the year mostly at New York venues is no different.

A couple of the artists featured this year use humor or playfulness to explore issues. Indianapolis-based professor Gautam Rao (mentioned here on SM) for example, calls himself Playful Painter. His submission “Restless Portrait: A Disappearing Painting” is a time-lapse video of one of his paintings set to music, but unlike his Stephen Colbert portrait or soap bottle still life, this one is neverending.

The world simply does not need more self portraits from me, and yet I am compelled to make them. My solution is to recycle the paintings, to paint over them once they are finished. This all-paintings-on-a-single-canvas policy proves exceedingly economical and perhaps lessens my carbon footprint. (

Divya Mehra, originally from Winnipeg and a recent graduate of Columbia’s School of Arts, often takes the role of a harmless buffoon in her videos to “activate repressed impulses, disrupt convention, and explore power relations in terms of gender and sexuality, as well as racial and cultural identities.” The buffoonery is sometimes broadcast in the descriptions of her videos, such as the one for “Like You” — “In this video I perform a traditional dance of the North Indians to a song that was first sung by my ancestors.” On her site, short video clips from longer pieces include a split screen one with footage from “The Party” in which she reprises the role of the “silly but charming Hindu played originally by Peter Sellers.”

Among those works that I could get a sense of online (admittedly a limited group), the digital photo collage “Waking From Dreams of India” by Neil Chowdhury also stood out for me. After the artist’s father died, he grew up isolated from Indian culture in the U.S. fantasizing about India through media and other accounts, but has now visited several times and collected a wealth of imagery along the way as is evident from his multilayered collages. The pieces often juxtapose the India he imagined with the one he encountered.


If any of you have been to the exhibition, it would be great to hear your impressions.

7 thoughts on “Contemporary Art From The Desi Diaspora

  1. Thanks for the links! It’s always cool to see what the artsy desis are up to.

  2. While the indo-arts council may give opportunities to emerging artists, its not really curatorially that interesting. I know a few artists that felt that it was a less than professional stereotypical desi run organization. It kind of just lumps all things Desi together. There are some great galleries in New York that show the work of South Asian artist. Thomas Urben(most recently Yamini Nayar; they also represent Chitra Ganesh), Bose Pacia, Talwar Gallery.

  3. Thanks for the link Santosh! And thanks to anita as well–Bose Pacia sounds familiar to me but the others are not, so I’m looking them up right now. I also need to keep more up-to-date on shows in the Bay Area. I was reading about Gauri Gill’s “The Americans” and then found out it had already passed through the area last year and now is in India.

  4. Thanks for this post, I always like to hear about desidiaspora creativity. And thanks for including Neil Chowdhury, I can really relate. :0)

  5. Pavani: Love how topical your posts are. I am enjoying learning more about contemporary desi art.