In Conversation With Radhika Khimji: Part I

We caught up with artist Radhika Khimji in her London studio, surrounded by art books, evil eyes and a large collection of delicate crystals, we talked about her heritage, her recent solo show at Gallery Sarah in Muscat, Oman and the intricate process behind her work.

Radhika, pictured in May, in her studio in London.

Pallas: For your exhibition with Collectionair, you chose the title ADRIFT. Can you tell us why?

Radhika:  The images that I have been using recently came from a trip I made to my families’ ancestral home in India, Kutch, a district in Gurujat. It’s kind of my first memory of being there as I haven’t been since I was a child. It’s across The Tropic of Cancer from Muscat, the city where my family lives now. I was thinking about the sea and how we went across by boat, adrift, so it seemed like a voyage. Adrift feels like a word that means transition, it means movement to me. It also means something in between; something floating somewhere. For me it has many connotations.

Pallas:  How long does it take you stich on top of these images?

Radhika: It takes time, a lot of time, and you know I come from a miniature painting background where mark making is very temporal, where time becomes a strategy, about how I make work, and this word adrift is also important because I think a lot about displacement and I use strategies of displacement in my process, so cutting out a shape and moving it a bit to the left and to the right is a way to move the image.  Adrift is a movement across a space, and stitching on top of the paper is a way of touching every part of it, it is a way travelling on top of the picture, and taking a trip on the paper.

Pallas:  I never thought about it like that, taking a trip on the paper. That’s so nice.

Radhika: Well I spent a lot of time with it, touching every part of it repeatedly

Pallas:  So your work generally comes from taking a trip, whether it’s actually a physical trip or moving from one idea to another? It always seems to be about progress, movement, change, for you…

Radhika: Completely. The process and the concept behind it is very closely linked. For me the answer is often in the process, and the tactile feeling of the work.

Pallas:  And… as an artist do you ever think “I should really know where I am going next…”?

Radhika: Sure. I’m not in the dark about this. I think it’s important to know what the context is, and where you are going as an artist. I do get lost and I think a lot about it. Sometimes I’m not sure and I get stressed when I don’t know.  I feel safer when there is a strategy, but I guess sometimes more interesting things happen when I don’t know.

Pallas: You say it feels ‘safer’ when there is a strategy, I also understand from your work, and the fact that we are surrounded by art historical and theoretical books, that you might feel ‘safer’ when there’s also a context that you can relate to art history?

Radhika: Definitely, I mean, that image that you said you liked, the one over there on the drawers, it’s called Splitting it’s an ode to Gordon Matta Clark, and the box on the table, that’s titled To divide and overlay, it’s in reference to Marcel Duchamp and his Bachelors, it’s very sexual you know, there’s breasts, legs, there’s a tree that looks like a phallus. I try not to let my references be really obvious, more of a subtle appropriation. It’s not the only meaning, instead it’s like a trigger, they are tangents almost, and an anchor for me.

To divide and Overlay, pencil, pen and thread on paper, glass and plywood, 35.5 cm x 35.5 cm x 49.5 cm, 2014.
To divide and Overlay, pencil, pen and thread on paper, glass and plywood, 35.5 cm x 35.5 cm x 49.5 cm, 2014.
Splitting, ink and acrylic on digital print on paper, 31 cm x 32 cm, 2012.

Pallas: An anchor?

Radhika: Yes, somehow they trigger the work but also anchor it to Art history, so you know these shapes could be otherwise lost, and that’s also linked to displacement. so the works are somehow placed and contextualized within an art history but only temporally, before the signifiers start to shift. You see the contexts are always moving, so art history acts like an anchor.

Pallas:  Yes but but always within a larger context, it’s almost the play between the space and the body. You have used the words “plural identities” before, would it be right to assume that this is the much more personal aspect of your work?

Radhika: Yes, it is very personal, I actually still haven’t got my head around it, using all this language between a modernist and classical narrative and actually trying to get into a space between the two.

Pallas:  I don’t think that matters though, personally I am always thinking about where something is going but it’s not necessarily always helpful. Sometimes it can be a bit suffocating.

Radhika: I think for me sometimes it gets suffocating because in the end they are very private recorded thoughts, even these bodies in transit, in movement, they are vulnerable. They are very much about the body and how you feel in the body. I don’t even talk about it very much, but I think it has a lot to do with being brought up in my culture. It’s about externalized frozen speech, what you can say, and what you can’t say, and about shame around the body. It has a lot to do with that, about covering yourself up and not being authentic on some level and how you express yourself.

Pallas: Of course. You grew up in Oman, practicing Hinduism.

Radhika: Yes, but Oman is a very liberal country, you don’t have to be covered up. It’s an open society, we are allowed to practice, we have temples there. It’s not like anything is in hiding, but I think this is the same kind of detachment feeling. I went to international schools growing up, I have strong Indian heritage, but Oman is my country, I’m Omani.

Pallas: Can you tell us about your recent solo show there, in Muscat, at Gallery Sarah?

Radhika: The show in Oman is called of Place and Places, location comes up in a lot of my titles. Safety and location, they seem to be a constant theme! Place is very important but it’s so abstract, so I am going through this whole thing of not saying where the place is, even though the place is so important. I don’t know what kind of chaos I was creating in my own head! Because then how can you talk about the work if you don’t say where it was? But I think it is this battle in the constant conversation of what it is actually about and where is it going, and how much of my personal identity is in here. So to go back to my ancestral home and make these images of places that I feel I have the permission to use because they are my home, it’s just a new language, of Place and Places was one of the first times I was using images from Oman and India.

of Place and Places installation view, Gallery Sarah, Muscat. Image courtesy of the artist.
of Place and Places installation view, Gallery Sarah, Muscat. Image courtesy of the artist.

Click here to see Radhika’s exhibition ADRIFT and look out for Part II of this interview, coming next week!

Pallas Kalamotusis

Pallas Kalamotusis is Collectionair’s Editor in Chief. She has an MA in Modernism in Europe from the Courtauld Insitute of art, and works closely with collectors and curators on a variety of different projects.