As seen in issue 52 of Closer Magazine, published on 2008-05-10 in the "NationalArt" section.

Asian Invasion
New art from the East hits Hollywood
By: Julie Kay

“Exploding the Lotus,” at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, is an intriguing exhibit featuring the work of 20 established and emerging Asian artists living in the United States.

The videos, audio presentations, sculptures, photographs and paintings explore a variety of issues, most centered around the artists’ challenges as they adjust to life in the West.. The work touches on themes of feminism, racism, colonialism, gender and Eastern cultural practices, and ranges in spirit from ultra light-hearted to deeply serious.

Jane Hart, the curator at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, said she spawned the relatively small exhibit, which can be seen in less than an hour, to coincide with a performance of an Indian dance company last March.

One of the artists Hart recruited was Jaishri Abichandani, a prominent Asian American painter and founder of the New York based South Asian Womens Creative Collective (SAWCC). Hart wound up asking Abichandani, who lives and works in New York, to co-curate the exhibit.

“I don’t know that there has been another exhibit in this nature in South Florida” Hart says, “bringing the work of some important, younger and established contemporary artists from South Asia, India and Pakistan here. It’s important for us to gain a greater understanding of that region, both artistically and culturally.”

Among the show’s fun pieces is Zero Genie, by Ansuman Biswas, a light-hearted video of two men in “genie” garb, sitting on “magic carpets” and taking flight – in the weightlessness of the Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia.

Also fun and inventive is Glass Diamonds, by Vandana Jain. The diamond shapes fashioned across the floor of one room of the museum are comprised of shattered car windows. Since diamonds represent good luck in India and can be seen in most homes, take care not to step on the loose, unglued artwork.

Another cute piece – with meaningful undertones – is the glass-encased Trophies of Unsuitable Girls, by Swati Khurana. The dozen or so traditional gold-plated sports trophies are awarded to “Least Dutiful Wife” and “Most Apprehensive Fiancee” and “Least Generous Sister,” and others who step outside Eastern societal norms.

For sheer visual pleasure, check out Abichandani’s camera sculptures. Every inch of the four cameras is adorned with pink, blue or red sequins, and the open back displays the interior’s miniature momentoes, photos and keepsakes.

More grim is Mareena Daredia’s “Slaughterhouse” photo series, showing chickens and cows butchered according to Islam’s Halal laws of food preparation. According to the artist’s statement, Daredia is attempting to demonstrate how humane Halal is. But I believe the photos--of chickens roped up by their feet and about to have their necks slit, then after their necks are slit -- may have the opposite effect. Some will be inspired to become vegetarians.

Another thought-provoking piece is Rajkamal Kahlon’s Algebra of Infinite Justice. The large artwork intersperses 100-year-old newspaper clippings about racial and colonial subjects with colorful, psychedelic drawings of rape, torture, mutilation, skulls and guns.

One of my favorite pieces is situated, appropriately, near the center’s restrooms: an audiotape, compiled by Sa’dia Rehman, of “Lotah Stories.”

Lotah is the Urdu word for “a container that holds water” and it is used by Indians in place of toilet paper to clean themselves after going to the toilet. The continuous audio loop plays Indians’ stories of trying to maintain the Lotah tradition while living in the United States, and how they disguise or hide the practice from roommates and spouses.

Adding to the show’s ambience is the plaintive Indian folk song that plays continuously throughout the exhibit. The song is from a videotape by Abichandani entitled “Bijli: Heart of a Drag Queen,” in which the artist sings a native love song in full female regalia – something he was unable to do safely in his native India.

Personally, I could do without the feminist drawing by Sa’dia Rehman, to which she has glued some of her pubic hair. Hey, call me old-fashioned.
“Exploding the Lotus” runs through May 25 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood,
1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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