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"Punjabi Sheets #2: Family Tree"
Sarindar Dhaliwal, "Punjabi Sheets #2: Family Tree," 1989, mixed media installation, approx. 20.3 cm x 76.3 cm x 366.0 cm (8" x 30" x 144"). Collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
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"Punjabi Sheets #3: Birbansian, 1953"
Sarindar Dhaliwal, "Punjabi Sheets #3: Birbansian, 1953," 1991, mixed media installation, 213.5 cm x 671.1 cm x 35.6 cm (84" x 264" x 14"). Collection of the artist.
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"Curtains for babel x, y & z"
Sarindar Dhaliwal, "Curtains for babel x, y & z," 2003, mixed media installation, approx. 259.3 cm x 793.1 cm x 2.5 cm (102" x 312" x 1"). Collection of the artist.
SARINDAR DHALIWAL, Record Keeping
Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art
Dec 8, 2006 – Feb 17, 2007
By Lorne Roberts
"I think the general public tends to like my paintings and the art world tends not to like them. And the art world likes the installations while the general public is perhaps mystified by them."
When Sarindar Dhaliwal says this about her work, it's easy to believe her. At once her work embodies this series of contrasts and dualities that both attracts and mystifies.
Since it first opened in England in the spring of 2005, Record Keeping has toured to several venues in the U.K. and Canada. Now it’s at its final stop at Winnipeg’s Plug-In ICA.
The exhibition showcases work from 1988 to 2003 by Dhaliwal, who can claim three separate nations as homeland. Born in India, she was raised in England. Settling in Canada as a young adult, she journeyed back to her former homes, including a period at art school in England.
Record Keeping consists of 11 works, including watercolour paintings and collage, as well as several large-scale installation pieces. The show documents the slow process of cultures bleeding into, overlapping and erasing one another.
Dhaliwal's work "makes many references to both her Indian and English experiences without any overt didacticism about her position in Canada," curator Sunil Gupta says. That can make her artistic voice difficult to pinpoint.
Her paintings are mostly watercolours, interspersed with collage and using the repeating motif of flowers alongside recognizable images from art history. Blending text, advertising, and floral patterns that Dhaliwal has said reflect the garden in England that she wanted but never had, her paintings have been accused of being "decorative" in the past, a word that is usually prefaced with "merely". But it's those artificial distinctions, the insistence on the division into sub-groupings, in art and elsewhere, that Dhaliwal seems to engage with, or even rail against, in her work.
At the same time, the work embraces globalism as it's been represented in the artist's own life. In a work like Curtains for Babel x, y and z, a large-scale installation, she mourns the loss of linguistic and cultural distinction in this age of an emerging internet-driven Esperanto.
In installations such as Punjabi Sheets #3; Birbansian, 1953, which uses an Indian folk tale written on a giant chalkboard, or The Book of Yellow with its mock-pretentious cataloguing of culture, and its overlap of East and West, Dhaliwal moves beyond the neat categorization of race or identity politics, representing the double-edged sword of hybridity in the modern age.
Rather than being concerned with presenting a conclusion, then, or some definitive statement on what it means to represent any particular group, Dhaliwal seems most interested in representing only the idea of her globalized self. And that self, judging by her work, is one who (un)comfortably straddles several traditions, belonging to all and none at the same time.
Dhaliwal recently told an interviewer: "I think, for me, what's really important when I look at other people's work, is I want to see the connection between the thing that they made, and who they are... or what their life is,” Dhaliwal recently told an interviewer. "(W)e all live a life and we're all going to die, and how do you make your life – especially if you don't have children – how do you render it significant? So it could be that... that's what the work is trying to do. It's trying to say, you know, 'I was here.'"
So, as the show's title suggests, Dhaliwal is perhaps most interested in the act of documenting the ever-changing nature of languages and lives through her own lived experience.