Last Saturday, I attended the opening of Indian-American artist Manjari Sharman's solo exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum, titled 'Expanding Darshan: To See and Be Seen'.
My previous knowledge of Manjari was limited to her 'Bathroom Series' during her New York period. She invited different people to take baths in her apartment and photographed them. At that time, the bathroom seemed like a confessional booth, where people shed all their disguises or defenses, even willingly allowing the camera to capture their most private moments.
The colors in 'Expanding Darshan' are garish, and the imagery is traditional. I feel that my understanding of contemporary art is still insufficient. I often have these moments of self-doubt, which I am willing to share openly.
The museum's backyard is particularly beautiful. In Arizona, December still calls for just a light jacket. Manjari wore a pinkish-purple saree, and little yellow flowers from the trees kept falling on our heads. She speaks English very well, with no discernible accent, and she conversed and laughed heartily with the guests at the opening. I have two sarees at home in America, one bright green and one dark yellow. I thought of wearing one to express my admiration and respect for the artist, but I was afraid of not wearing it correctly and offending their cultural customs. The organizers specially prepared Indian dishes. Apart from the curry potato-stuffed fried dumplings, the other dishes seemed to be modified to suit the tastes of the guests."
I have experienced similar cultural transitions as Manjari. Although mine wasn't as paralyzing as she suggested. After all, I arrived 20 years after her. But I did reevaluate my knowledge, cognition, and values from the past decades after my first year in the U.S. I gained a renewed understanding of free will, assessment systems, and open-mindedness, and even had a transformative realization about 'facts' — I used to consider myself quite forward-thinking and international. Unlike me — actively learning American history, improving my English, and hoping to make close American friends while deliberately distancing myself from my comfortable circle of Chinese friends in a willing embrace of 'cultural invasion', Manjari uses her favorite medium – the camera – to deconstruct and explore Indian culture anew. This led to the creation of 'Expanding Darshan', a photography series she has been working on for three years.
Created between 2011 and 2013," 'Darshan' is a series that includes photographic recreations of classical Hindu deities, who play key roles in Hindu mythological stories."(Translation from the artist's official website)
I grew up in Beijing, with my activities mainly between Beijing and Shanghai, and my understanding of Chinese traditional culture is limited to Traditional Chinese Medicine and the 'Dream of the Red Chamber', firmly asserting the 5000 years (instead of 3000 years) of Chinese culture in front of Americans.
Perhaps the difference between Chinese and other languages, especially English, is greater? Insufficient English proficiency and its limited prevalence are important factors hindering Chinese people's understanding of the world, but they are not excuses. China is indeed not open enough – this is our underlying philosophical view and cannot be expected to change with one or two agreements. We can use the language of art as an intermediary for mutual understanding between China and the world.
Differences and subversions, leading to re-integration — this is the stimulus 'Expanding Darshan' has given me. Manjari said, "By bridging the gap between the significant ritualistic life of my parents and my own self-mythologizing, this series has become a conclusion for me to immerse, question, and expand the boundaries of faith, going beyond my imagination and beyond the frame of the photo."
What is the responsibility of contemporary artists? Each artist has the freedom to choose their own artistic stance. Purely developing in an aesthetic direction is a good path, and the market will allow different types of art to exist. I believe contemporary artists need to be concerned with society, and not mistakenly think that caring about society means discussing political situations. In this chaotic world, if contemporary Chinese artists can spread Chinese values – harmonious development, philosophical views – the doctrine of the mean, it is a proper way for contemporary Chinese art to speak on the international stage. Contemporary art agents have the same responsibility, and they also have an additional interactive duty – to introduce the culture of other countries to their compatriots. Professor Zhu Qingsheng once said, "In modern art, the responsibility of the artist is not borne independently by the artist, but requires the whole of humanity to cherish and support the creation and activities of artists." For now, I focus on the former. Since I don't hold a paintbrush, I'll use my eyes to discover Chinese artists. Perhaps they have already created and expressed themselves; I just haven't introduced them to the American audience."
I’ve been thinking about my role in the arts sector, particularly after deciding to focus on promoting Chinese artists in the U.S. What and how can I help?
Including the very talented ones, some artists have been stuck in a creative block for years. To inspect ourselves could be a way.
上周六，我参加了凤凰城艺术博物馆印度裔美国艺术家Manjari Sharman的个展开幕，Expanding Darshan：To See and Be Seen.
我和Manjari经历了类似的文化过渡，虽然没有像“麻痹”那么震撼，毕竟我比她晚来美国20年，但赴美后1年，我确实重新回顾了自己前几十年的知识体系，认知方式，以至于价值观。我对自由、自由意志、评价体系、开放思想，都有了重新的体会，甚至对“事实”也有了颠覆性的重新了解 —— 以前，我一度认为自己是一个非常时髦，思想超前的国际人。不同的是，我在努力学习美国的历史，努力精进英文，希望交到要好的美国朋友，特意远离让我舒适的中国朋友们，主动接受“文化入侵”；Manjari是用她钟爱的媒介— 相机，去重新解构和探索印度的文化。Expanding Darshan由此诞生，一套持续创作了3年的摄影作品。
相比其他语种，也许中文和英文的差异更大吧？英文不够好，普及度不够，是阻碍中国人了解世界的重要原因之一，但却不是借口。中国确实还不够开放 — 这是我们底层的哲学观，并不是靠一两个协定就能指望有所改变的。我们可以用艺术的语言，作为中国和世界相互了解的中介。
差异和颠覆，带来再融合—— 这是Expanding Darshan对我的刺激。Manjari说，"通过连接我父母那种有着重要仪式感的生活和我的自我神化之间的鸿沟，这个系列已经成为我沉浸、质疑和拓展信仰界限的推论，不仅超越了我的想象，也超越照片的外框。”
当代艺术家的职责是什么？每位艺术家有自由选择自己的艺术主张，纯粹在美学方向发展是条不错的路，市场也会允许不同类型的艺术存在。我认为，当代艺术家需要关心社会，且不可偏激的认为关心社会就是讨论政治时局。在当下这个混乱的世界，如果当代中国艺术家能够传播中国价值观 — 和谐发展、哲学观 — 中庸之道，何尝不是为中国当代艺术在国际舞台发声的妥善方式；当代艺术经纪人有同样的职责，并且还多了一份交互的责任 — 即向自己的同胞介绍他国的文化。朱青生老师说过，“现代艺术中艺术家的责任实际上不是艺术家独立承担的，这就需要全人类都来珍惜和支持艺术家的创作与活动，”。我暂且专注在前者，既然手里没有画笔，那就用眼睛去发现中国艺术家，也许他们早就有所创作有所表达，只是我没有把他们推向美国观众。