From Iceland — French Fries and Religious Symbols

French Fries and Religious Symbols

Published July 15, 2008

Namita Kapoor exhibits a fusion of Western and Asian cultures

French Fries and Religious Symbols
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Namita Kapoor exhibits a fusion of Western and Asian cultures

“My work is modern, it’s funny but it’s also very spiritual. It’s a play of many things blending,” says South East Asian-American artist Namita Kapoor. On July 5, she will open her first solo exhibition in Iceland at Gallery Gel, located on the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata. Entitled ‘Effervescent Delights’, her exhibition features a collection of recent paintings she describes as a hybrid of Western media and Asian craft, ornaments and symbolism.

Drawing from her South East Asian heritage and growing up in America, her paintings are a conjunction of famous Indian stories and iconography mixed with modern commercialism. Henna prints, religious symbols and sacred images are pasted on the canvas and Indian fabrics layered with different paint. The result is colourful pieces that pop out.

Asia Meets America
Namita grew up in California but has visited India several times in the past years and says that growing up with dual identities has influenced her work. “I grew up in America with all these different Indian stories and comic book images, but I never really thought about them. In 2003, I had a really spiritual trip to India. I was blown away by Indian craft and Indian textile and started including that in my work. On my trips to India I’ve collected Indian imagery, textile and fabrics. All of these things are integrated into the paintings.”

She’s also a dancer and has toured extensively nationally and internationally with various theatre and dance companies and says dance also plays a big part in her artwork. “I’ve always been dancing and painting but now I’m focusing more on painting. Where dance comes into my art is in the movement in the paintings. When you watch them they’re exploding, twisting and turning. There’s a lot happening.” By cutting-and pasting images and mixing them she explains that the stories, icons and myths become separate stories, taken from the original ones. “The stories become new fragmented concepts, which really represents my identity, fragmented sort of tapestry of these different deeply religious things.”

Asked if she is religious Namita replies: “I’m very spiritual. I believe religion is following something religiously. But I believe that art and dance and these mediums in which I express myself are religion. I do them daily, it takes a lot of dedication, meditation and sacrifice.”

Religious Symbols in a Consumer Driven Culture
The way Western and Asian cultures can interrelate and influence one another is the subject in one of Namita’s paintings, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, on the Grapevine’s info cover. The painting features two Buddhas meditating on top of the Earth with cow-legs (the cow is a sacred Hindu symbol), space rockets, French fries and astronauts circling around them. “The Buddha represents the total enlightenment. The moon and stars and sun act under him. At the same time, we see cow-legs circulating the planet along with French fries and astronauts. You can ask, is this a reference to the ultimate universe? Is this a reference to global warming? Or is it a reference to the way that while everything becomes smaller things are at the same time exploding?”

Namita goes on to discuss how Western culture tends to borrow religious symbols and icons to sell various products. “In America I’ve, for example, seen Ganesha, this famous Hindu god that represents the moving of obstacles, on a flip-flop. People are buying these shoes with the god on it and are attracted to it without necessarily knowing what it means.” In her art she questions how these Indian images and religious symbols survive in a consumer driven culture, by for example painting burger-mascot Ronald McDonald with his hands in prayer like the Buddha. “The idea is taking these spiritual things and sort of misconfuse them. There still is this attraction to the initial image so part of it is taking a piss on it and the other thing is asking what does this mean? Does this change the image? Does it reinvent the image? Do we think of something spiritual or something strangely bizarre when we look at it? It is a play on these different identities, which leaves the viewer with room for a lot of questions.”

To set off the exhibition, there will be a week of Indian events at Cafe Oliver on Laugavegur, connected to the exhibition. It will open on July 5 with the exhibition at Gallerí Gel and an after-party at Café Oliver. June 10 will see a sari fashion show, Indian food and live drumming. Namita will also offer Bollywood dance lessons and Henna tattoos for free.

  • WHO: Namita Kapoor
  • WHAT: Exhibition at Gel Galleri on Hvervisgata 37
  • WHEN: June 5 to 22
  • INFO:
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