Which Place This Place
Radhika Khimji’s art take the viewer on a psychological journey that is borne from real life places and displacements. “My cities”, she says, “are Muscat and London, and my country is India”. Born in Oman to Indian parents, Khimji received her higher education in London (she has degrees in art as well as art history) and also spends time in Paris. Her drawings, sculptures and installations, express and explore the state of plural identity and betweeness that her heritage implies. Khimji’s does not depict identifiable sites, but rather presents the viewer with an innovative fusion of abstraction and figuration. Many of her colourful drawings contain an abstract world of dots and swirls, which bear the traces of traditional Indian and Western non-representational painting. She also depicts figures that slump like molten plastic: bodies that might be said to echo the modernist painterly figuration that emerged (almost in parallel) in postwar European and in post-Independence Indian art. Her works also explore fantasy; for they depict an imaginary world in which bodies might merge, splice and vanish into cosmic voids and vacuums.
While she has studios in both London and Muscat, much of Khimji’s work is executed in transit. Like a diarist, she records her impressions of places and subjective states in numerous closely worked sketchbooks. Using architectural pens – thinly pointed and dense with ink – she sketches shapes, patterns and bodies. Much of her work begins from these drawings, and she is adept at extrapolating their cosmic dramas. For example, her ongoing interest in revealing both sides of a sheet of paper has emerged from the fact that the pens she uses often bleed onto the other side. Khimji has even constructed items of furniture to display these papers, with sliding and overlapping panels that allow the pages to be realigned. Ruptures in the paper allow another degree of overlap, allowing the bodies and spaces she depicts to visually mix on multiple layers. This merging of forms might be said to parallel the shifting of roles, attitudes and placements as one travels from one society to another. It is a bureau for the dramatization of a multifarious identity.
Khimji’s work also explores how societies respond to bodies – whether by permissiveness or censorship. Her new works are tactile, intimate and present. By exploring this tension between nodal points (abstraction and figuration, endomorphic sides of paper, place and evanescence) Khimji is able to explore and subvert definite categories. For example, the conceptual arena of Orientalism is a subject that concerns her. How might an artist escape being classified as somehow exotic? Is it best to summon up the ghosts of Orientalism in order to critique it? Is this critique, in its own right, also a category (Edward Said wrote his famous critique over thirty years ago)? Nothing escapes idle classification and misinterpretation. The trick is to keep the terms in motion. By constantly shifting her points of departure, Khimji is able to welcome these slippages and make them her own.
Written By Colin Perry