Born 1992, Udaipur, India / BFA, American University in Dubai, UAE / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Madison Heights, MI
Detroit-based multimedia artist Jetshri Bhadviya is profoundly concerned with technique. She’s lived much of her life steeped in it; entering her studio, you’re confronted by exquisite prints of her photographic work, crystalline recordings of her expansive, layered sound pieces, and (perhaps surprisingly, since she tends not to exhibit them) rows of well-executed oil paintings. Bhadviya grew up studying Kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. She is an avid student of history, religion, science, and gender. She is fluent in Hindi and English, and has studied Sanskrit.
But from this vast, rich education, Bhadviya has arrived at an understanding of technique’s dead end. Just as she’s hopped continents in pursuit of higher education and career, so has she sought to transcend the foundations of technical mastery to create a language, a practice, that is entirely hers. Bhadviya arranges archives of everyday sounds into staggering sonic maps, meticulously arranges signs in her still images to awaken ideas about gender, identity and place while uncannily canceling them out, and cloaks herself in swaths of confining fabrics for her performance work, crafting a balance between sophisticated and primordial, sensual and asexual, observant and blind.
Bhadviya’s identity as an immigrant in the United States, and an unconventional woman in her home country, positions her to interrogate accepted ideas about identity. She finds common ground in a strange intersection, the reliance on gender, religion and class that the West and the East share as foundational signs of identity. Her practice seeks to eliminate every outward sign of these three registers, paring humanity down to an almost embryonic root, and playing with the movements that make us human, while denying the markers we require to ground them in something we can recognize.
Bhadviya creates photographs of her performance works, standalone objects that do more than merely document. Her knowledge of the aesthetics of beauty, color theory, darkroom photography, and digital technology all come into play here, resulting in beautiful images that find their tension in the one element that is missing—a sense of specific subject or place. Her performances and photography often show her gagged and blindfolded under layers of fabric or rope, her gender and identity rendered unrecognizable, as in The Sealed (2013), which she created by submitting a photographic negative to a process of hand-stitching and burning that gradually obscured her self-portrait.
In her performance Emancipation (2015-16) and related images The Armour and The Emancipation (both 2015-16), Bhadviya is swaddled in three hundred pounds of rope woven with payal, bells traditionally worn by Indian women. The bells are fraught signifiers of either womanhood or marriage in India, depending on religious custom; Bhadviya thinks of them as a symbol of “everything that binds me to my culture and is thrown at me only because I am female.” Sound and vision combine here to subsume the identity of the wearer in one of the most powerful signs of gender and status that exist in Bhadviya’s homeland. These bonds are gradually shed in Emancipation, the way a serpent sheds its skin. Bhadviya is, in her own words, “a silent witness to my own conquest.”
In more recent works, such as her solo show #CheckYourMisconceptionsAtTheDoor (2017-18), Bhadviya emerges from zippered fabric sacks. Amorphous and translucent, these costumes are crafted in hues that correspond to whatever environment she finds herself in, allowing glimpses of her limbs as she moves within them. As seen in the related photographs The Confrontation of The Goddess Venus and The Goddess Sack (both 2017-18), the effect is both otherworldly and profoundly organic; Bhadviya becomes a scaled up fetus. Each of her movements feels as if it is being made for the very first time—there’s a tentative jerkiness, as well as a guileless sensuality, that pulls the viewer back into a similarly pre-identity state. The sound piece that accompanies #CheckYourMisconceptionsAtTheDoor contains this monologue:
“Can you see me?
Why do you think I’m here?
I am unwilling to disclose my identity.
I’m no one.
I’m not from here.
I’m not from anywhere.”
A fitting description from one who resolutely resists the strictures of traditional identity. Prescient, too, of the open-ended, untethered identities we are all invited to assume in the twenty-first century.
Clara DeGalan, June 2018
Copyright Essay’d, 2018