Riding the Wave

I needed to stop thinking about the pandemic and general state of the world. The result is a new set of photopolymer etchings based on trips to the seaside. It has been fun to immerse myself in movement, colour and pattern in a very free and easy way, just floating along, enjoying the mark making. Whilst I was creating the work the process completely engaged me but at the end I realised that in a way this is still about the pandemic- we are all being swept along on a wave that we don’t have control over- literal and metaphorical. So much is happening right now- the pandemic, the climate crisis continues and the BLM movement continues. This is when I feel so glad to be an artist because I can immerse myself in my work and in the process of it, understand how I feel and cope in overwhelming situations. I am so happy with these turbulent, rushing, mountainous seascapes.

Lockdown Projects

I have been busy during lockdown, making work in response to it. Some days I haven’t felt like doing anything- anxiety about the future has immobilised me! But focusing on small pleasures and making a little work every day has been a wonderful antidote. Having said that. at times it has been hard because I have been examining my feelings through my work.

These works are all made on 140 x 100 Khadi paper. The use of this paper is symbolic because it is made in India where my story as a child of immigrants and refugees starts.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is isolation-1.jpg

With the first piece above called ‘Looking Out’, I have been trying to convey my sense of my world shrinking. The white circle on the right is my world, blank because I don’t know what the future holds, because climate change is still happening in the midst of this pandemic and my fear is there will be no world unless we pay attention. Outside the window we see the chaos and vivd beauty of this planet of ours. Life is going on outside my window.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tumble-full-size-3.jpg
Tumble 2020

Tumble is the 1st of my ‘Isolation’ triptych. It is about my feeling that we are caught up in a wave which we cannot control. Coronavirus is affecting us all- these boats are all different to reflect the fact that all our experiences are different but the same too as we are all human after all. The boats are part of the same wave yet separated -as we are.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tidal-2.jpg
Tidal 2020 o

When I started working on Tidal, it was about about the situation of the displaced and homeless in this crisis, it now seems to speak for anyone who feels vulnerable because of circumstances they can’t control. I was inspired by seeing a report early in lockdown about overcrowded refugee camps, stretching for miles, another disaster waiting to happen. The idea of people having no agency over their lives disturbs me hugely but is a reality for vast swathes of people and they are hugely vulnerable right now.

What We Don’t Talk About

8yeaWhen I was making Told/Untold and Counted I researched into UNHCR statistics on forcible displacement. They are shocking- there are 70.8 million people worldwide who have been forced to leave their homelands which is 1 every 2 seconds more or less. Looking closely, I realised that 5.6 million of these are Syrians who have fled since the war there began in 2011- that’s a 1/4 of the population approximately. In addition,  6.6 million have been displaced internally. Yet, the destruction of Syria seems to have disappeared from our consciousness -whole cities have been destroyed, there are no green spaces and the infrastructure is gone. But we do not hear about it on the news any longer.

My new exhibition, ‘What We Don’t Talk About’, is my response to what is happening in Syria. I have made a mixed media piece ‘Wave‘ about the journeys of Syrian refugees, and four etchings called ‘8 years‘ where I have described the devastated landscape there. I will be showing these works along with the etching plates for ‘8 Years’ at Uppercase Gallery in the Art and Design building at UH on College Lane from 21st January to 17th February. There will be a PV from 3.30pm on 21/01 which you are warmly invited to attend!

8year8years8y

Working on Counted in my studio

Counted is my latest piece of work and is inspired by the current migration crisis. The statistics for the number of people who have died trying to reach sanctuary continues to shock me. Even more shocking is the fact that many are anonymous because they flee secretly – whole shiploads of people sink without acknowledgement. United Against Racism  tries to keep track with The List which records the names of those known to have  perished and in 2018 it comprised of over 34,000 names.

I feel that the numbers are overwhelmingly huge and hard to imagine. I wanted some way of conveying the reality of the ‘statistics’. I spent some time considering how to do this. In the end, I realised that my interest stems partly from my own history as the child of immigrants traumatised by the 1947 Partition of India  which is the largest mass migration in history, where 10-12 million people were forcibly displaced when India was divided so I used Khadi paper to reflect my Indian heritage. As I am telling a story with this piece, I used a book tool to make 36,500 holes in the paper; each hole represents a person who has died trying to reach sanctuary, each gold knot represents 100 and each red knot, 1000. Deep sea fishing weights are attached to represent those who have drowned. There is a gap at the top of the page, with the tool attached, because the story continues. To follow are another two pieces; Cargo about the recent story of the 39 Vietnamese migrants who died in the lorry in Essex and Kismet, about how only Chance dictates how our story goes.

Making this piece has taken many months- partly because the process of making the holes takes a long time but there were also moments when I had to take a break because I felt overwhelmed with sadness. Even so, I feel strongly feel that that artists are in a unique position to question the status quo, raise awareness of issues close to our hearts and thus be agents for change.

Told/Untold by Suman Gujral

told:untold2018 has been a busy and productive year for me. I completed my MA- with distinction, getting 88% for my final submission! The MA led my work in unexpected directions. I started with small landscape based works thinking that I would use the MA to explore my Indian heritage through researching into Indian art history and how colour is used in India, perhaps making work inspired by Moghul miniatures.

As I read about Indian art history, I began to realise how the Partition of India in 1947 had affected every aspect of life on the subcontinent including art. This led to conversations with my mother about her experience as a child during during Partition, being forced to leave behind all that was familiar. This gave me a new understanding of the profound impact that being displaced had had not only on her and our whole family but those on both sides of the imposed division. I gradually came to see the resonances of Partition with the current migration crisis and to reflect on the waves of displacement humanity has undergone throughout history and their common roots.

I knew that (according to the UNHCR) someone is forcibly displaced every two seconds but earlier this year, I read an article in the Guardian relating that over 34,000 people have died in the last 25 years trying to reach sanctuary. I was shocked by this figure- particularly because the article explained that the figure is actually higher because many deaths are not known. I wanted to make work reflecting on this.

Told/Untold is composed of multiple boats in aquatic colours, held together with fishing hooks and line referencing the many sea crossings made by refugees. I printed over 20 monoprints on both sides and cut boats out of them. Each boat is unique as each refugee’s story is unique but there are common elements- barbed wire, shattered landscapes, a sense of chaos, referencing the fact that this a global crisis as well as an individual tragedy. The boats embrace a childlike naïveté – reminding us that many children have undertaken arduous journeys. The remnants from cutting the boats out lie beneath them- like debris from the boats which have sunk.

I have had many interesting and uplifting conversations with people as they have passed through the gallery. They have shared their own stories of loss and displacement and shown a huge concern when they realise how many people are currently fleeing their homes.