A Colourful Vertigo

I feel her eyes and recoil in shame. Only a few days into a two-month Asialink Arts residency in Bangalore and all it takes is a sideways glance. So enthralled with my crunchy masala dosa, I have attacked it with both hands, drawing the eyes of my fellow studio artists as we breakfast at the local cantina. I curse myself, all the previous mental notes about food-hand etiquette forgotten in the moment. 

Two hours later I traverse the traffic tango – a song of sultry jazz horn and screechy wheels – this sensory overload is enhanced by the voices and colours of the fabric market where I am tracking down material (by the kilo) for a new project. Mountains of lace and embroidery tower way over my head. I pull at one of the many fabrics, disrupting a fine balance. The stack avalanches and my friend almost disappears from sight. 

Bangalore is a city alive with optimism and emerging artists appear to be questioning everything. They are exploring social and environmental concerns with bold, youthful passion. They facilitate exhibitions, experimental performances and discussions in alternative spaces from lounge rooms and garages, to family restaurants and local parks. One afternoon while avoiding monsoon rain, an art school graduate describes a recent international video art show that took place entirely in a classic Indian telly shopfront.   

Later, a young art student at her university gallery shows me a selection of traditional Hindu drawings. We laugh at some of the distorted and unrealistic representations of female form. Our conversation progresses to the entrenched cultural discrimination of the class system and I am shocked when she says ‘feminism and contemporary art are only really accessible for the educated and privileged classes.’ 

As a passionate Australian feminist, I feel vertigo in this place. It is a colourful vertigo oscillating between the desire to practise cultural sensitivity in a foreign place and to simultaneously remain true to my core values. I wonder about the conditions of shared feminist dialogue in a place where I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of a complex cultural environment. I am acutely aware that at any one time I am completely oblivious to numerous social nuances and signifiers.  

As the golden haze of day shifts to blue there is no sense that the endless traffic and blaring horns will ever abate. I feel something soft brush the inside of my hand and out of the darkness – beside me a young girl comes into focus, imploring me to buy a rose. I notice the red and gold stains on my hands and arms. Only an hour earlier I was swimming in a pool of jasmine and coloured powder on my studio floor. The arc of culture shock and fervent passion colours a palette and I am just beginning to discern some of the shades.

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Photographic documentation of public action, performers (from right) Hannah Raisin, Keerthana Chandragiri and Kiran Joan, 2016


Hannah Raisin, Untitled 2, 2016


Hannah Raisin, Untitled 1, 2016

Hannah Raisin is an artist focusing on performance, video and photographic practice. Highlights of her playful and subversive practice include Dear Carolee, Love Cindy, Love Hannah at ACMI for the 2013 Channels Festival, Backflip: Feminism and humour in contemporary art at Margaret Lawrence Gallery in 2013 and Soak at Melbourne Art Rooms in 2015. Raisin was an 2016 Asialink Arts resident at 1Shanthiroad Studios in Bangalore, made possible by the generous support of Creative Victoria.