A 2021 census revealed that Indians form the largest Asian ethnic group and the largest non-white ethnic group in the UK. However, stories and memorabilia from diasporic Indians are often overlooked or lost in translation. But British-Asian artists Nina Mhach Durban and Athen Kardashian are changing that by showcasing their experiences of growing up Indian in the UK during the 2000s through their mixed media art. Their art is an amalgamation of their clandestine and intimate experiences of migration, blending the East with the West and celebrating the feminine diaspora.
The duo grew up hoarding knick-knacks and trinkets that may have felt ordinary and quaint but later became significant for their visual language. Their vintage archive of memories comes alive in their art and depicts a delicate balance of non-Western femininity and iconography that reflects Bollywood’s celebrity worship culture. Nina says on Instagram, "These women turn into participating deities as they exchange gazes with the audience. They are now not only protectors as they watch over us, but they also become all-seeing witnesses holding the institutions in which they sit accountable."
Through their art, they pay homage to female figures that influenced their way of being. Much of their mixed media pieces are reminiscent of their nani’s shrine-like collection of photographs and mementos pasted on the household refrigerator. Nina and Athen mirror their teenage experiences through school notice boards and whiteboards, seemingly conveying the marriage between their grandparents' roots and the newfound cultural hybridity that evolved through their migration to London.
Prem is about encapsulating a moment in time integral to our childhoods, bringing forth a nostalgia relatable to the diasporic community especially, but not exclusively, within the UK. The name 'Prem' serves as an ode to the British-Asian artist Prem Sahib. As the piece developed we realised how closely it spoke to a series Sahib had produced involving hoodies trapped between slabs of glass. To us, this speaks of the squashed layers of cultures upon cultures: the diasporic experience. Our work serves to credit the British-Asian artists that are missing from British Art History and supplement the artistic losses at the hands of colonialism.
Nina and Athen tell us about their piece 'Prem' and the process that went behind its creation.
Athen and Nina encapsulate their lived experience of finding home away from home in a lucid visual language that celebrates and honours femininity and diaspora afflictions in an endearing and visceral fashion.
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