Foreign Returned, 2013
Foreign Returned was a series of life size paintings created during a visit to Australia by Indian-born, Toronto-raised artist Meera Sethi.
Foreign Returned explores South Asian identities through time and space and the works were inspired by the artist’s own experiences of movement between Canada, India and Australia. The artist’s characteristic use of vibrant colour and bold pattern offers a contemporary interpretation of iconography from 16th to 19th century Indian miniature paintings.
In this exhibition, artist Meera Sethi creates imagined portraits of symbolic wanderers who carry with them objects, images and personal histories of belonging and dislocation. Local Australian flora and fauna, an Indian tiffin, and a Canadian passport reference the artist’s experience of transnational movement. These diasporic portraits question what is foreign and where is home. As the cultural theorist Stuart Hall writes, "... identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being..."
The work takes its title from an Indian phrase that describes those who have gone “abroad” for either work or study and have “returned”, forever changed as a result of their experience. Using this phrase as a starting point, the artist invites an inversion and displacement to describe the experiences of descendants of South Asian emigrants. The return for these travellers is not to an imagined country of origin where they may never have stepped foot, but back to their diasporic homelands in Canada, the USA, Australia, the African continent or the Caribbean... What is “foreign” and what creates “home” shifts, and is contingent.
The politics of naming are highlighted in these the works. Each figure has a “good name” followed by a short Anglicized version in parenthesis. “Good name” is a literal translation of the Hindi words “Shubh Naam” that refers to a person’s legal name. Whether through voluntary assimilation, social pressure or misnaming, each abbreviated title points to a larger story of the complexities of migration, identity and belonging.
Meera Sethi’s multi-disciplinary practice explores the intersection of material culture and migration, and the construction of self. Her art references Indian dress iconography, contemporary fashion and popular culture. In the colourful journeys that traverse her canvas, Meera’s graphic design background informs the two-dimensional elements that are a defining feature of her aesthetic. Minute detail is juxtaposed with unexpected scale; saturated colour combines with geometric abstraction.
Meera’s work has been featured in print and online in VOGUE India, CNNgo, MTV Desi and numerous other publications. Based in Toronto, she has exhibited her work internationally, and regularly travels to India to expand her research and practice.
This exhibition was part of the 2013 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program
Sofitel Melbourne On Collins
February - April 2013