SMILE, 2017. Bindis, jewels, thread on silk. 56" x 80."
Interdisciplinary artist PREETIKA RAJGARIAH uses personal biography as a jumping off point in works that "challenge perceptions of exoticism and the sociopolitical standards in Indian and American cultures." Her performative photographs and videos investigate the nature of body adornment—which can paradoxically make us blend in or stand out, depending on the crowd. She gives decorative materials—ruffles, saris, bindis, henna, glitter, hair extensions—their own embodiment in sculptures and wall works, allowing the viewer to contemplate ornamentation without the body as a substrate. Preetika earned her BA in Studio Art at Trinity University in San Antonio,Texas. She completed her MFA in Painting and Sculpture in 2018 at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was recently an artist-in-residence at ACRE and is headed to Oxbow in the fall. Her work will be included in a two-person show, opening at Roots and Culture (Chicago) in October. Preetika is currently preparing for three solo exhibitions in Texas in 2019: Tangled at Art League Houston, Sari Not Sorry at Lawndale Art Center (Houston), and a currently-untitled show at Women and their Work (Austin). Preetika lives and works in Houston, Texas.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What does adornment mean to you?
Preetika Rajgariah: Adornment represents choice—the choice to adorn or not—and pushing those boundaries.
In my culture, adornment is expected for women to elevate one's beauty or status. . . growing up with the pressure to decorate oneself or present in certain ways is something I’m interested in challenging in my life and work.
Beauty Mask, 2018. Digital Photo.
OPP: What’s the role of exaggeration in your photographic and video works from Self?
PR: I’ve often gravitated towards accumulation and repetition in my practice. More recently, I like to use my body as material to showcase this exaggeration. I’ve always been a bit of an athlete or a competitive person, so in the videos or photos, I am often in competition with myself. I am very interested in exploring my limits and defying my own expectations. So, these works explore limits and standards that are set by societies.
How About Now?, 2017. Video performance with sindoor powder. 4:10 Excerpt from 20 minutes.
OPP: Can you talk about additive versus subtractive processes in your series of modified Saris? Is the sari a symbol—if so, of what?—or simply a familiar surface in this work?
PR: The sari represents familiarity and nostalgia while simultaneously embodying the exotic. It is a material that evokes memories of the place I was born, but it also signifies a culture that I sometimes feel extremely removed from.
Typically, impulse and intuition lead the decisions I make in my practice. I MAKE first and foremost, no matter the medium I am using. In the two dimensional sari pieces, I make formal decisions of addition or subtraction depending on each particular sari and the story that inspires the piece (yes, there’s usually a autobiographical narrative that informs each of my works).
What we keep, what we leave, 2017. Sari with pyrography. 55" x 90."
OPP: Both material and process play a big role in your work. Are you more driven by one or the other?
PR: Both material and process are crucial to the content of the work. More often, I am drawn to material first, as it is extremely narrative driven, and then process comes in as my way of problem-solving. Coming from a painting background, I treat material similarly to paint. Formally, it is a large part of the beauty in my work. The materials I use in my work now—textiles, powders, henna—go way back for me. They are all materials that surrounded me daily while growing up. In this sense, I feel much more connected to my art and my work now than when it existed as just paintings. My processes—stitching, tearing, pouring, bleaching—are ways of handling of these materials that complicate, dismantle and re-purpose.
Climax, Migrating Identities, 2015. Watercolor on paper. 51" x 1.2'
OPP: I love the migration paintings. They teeter between abstraction and representation, and the marks remind me of thumbprints. Can you talk about the shift from these representations of the movement of groups of people to focusing in on the individual in recent work?
PR: In recent years, as I have unpacked my own upbringing and personal life, the work has honed in on the individual as well. The migration paintings are directly related to my three dimensional sculptures—the aunties. I had wanted to make three dimensional versions of the paintings for quite sometime, and as I became interested in fabric and textile, experimenting with the new material lead me to create free standing, hollow sculptures made entirely from scraps of traditional silks - often saris that belonged to the women in my family.
Hairy auntie, 2017. 25" x 60."
OPP: Who are the aunties in Soft Bodies? Are these soft sculptures memorials to your real aunties?
PR: No, the aunties are not specific to any real people, but they do embody a certain spirit so to speak. They are mash-ups of many dualities I experience: Indian/American, traditional/modern, masculine/feminine, past/present, hard/soft, etc. As I created these amorphous bodies, the narrative around their being came into existence. They are bold, resistant and a bit othered. They represent facets of my own personality as a bit of an othered woman in the American and Indian societies that I navigate, while also being stand ins for a tribe of aunties I wish I had had in my life growing up.
To see more of Preetika's work, please visit prajgariah.com.