Deptford on a summer Thursday evening is just starting to liven up. Residents straight from work in the city have started to arrive at the bars and pubs in developed railway arches. Opposite these arches, a different crowd has emerged—spilling out of a small, white cube space, the stage for a plot for the multiverse unfolds.
indigo+madder is a commercial gallery. Established in November 2018 in response to the lack of representation for contemporary South Asian artists in London, it is mindful of the delicate balance between ‘othering’ and supporting artists based on nationality. In keeping with this ethos, a plot for the multiverse brings together five South Asian artists living and working in the UK, asking them to question the delicate task of including their individual cultures and heritage within their practice. The works in the show draw on ideas ranging from popular science fiction to offering perspectives on non-linear time, rethinking what it is to be in the present: perspectives often only represented within the western canon.
The work fits neatly into the small, white, pristine space. Amba Sayal-Bennet’s triptych of ink and marker drawings blend the tradition of miniature painting and modernist/futurist architecture; the crisp drawings surrounded by white space and white frames bleed into the gallery.
Sayal-Bennet’s ‘Revising the Calendar’ becomes a central point for visitors to explore in the round. At first glance it could represent an ancient place of worship, but perhaps it is the maquette of a location in a sci-fi film: in front of a delicate triptych, sculpture stands out in relief. The use of low-art materials, such as masking tape and blu-tac, contrast with the crisp graphics of her video ‘Empire V’, which reflects the aesthetics of video games and architectural blueprints. Both works depict buildings, recognisable as other worldly ruins or relics, and this contrast of high and low materials reinforces the contrast of new and old architecture, blurring the lines of past and present. Are these buildings crumbling or newly built?
Nearby, Hardeep Pandhal’s ‘Operation Blue Star Concept Poster’ also looks to video games for inspiration, creating an advert for a fictional game based on the legacy of the 1984 Operation Blue Star incident in North India, reflecting on how trauma and colonial violence has been packaged and sold for mass consumption. The resulting drawing is full of Pandhal’s cartoon humour underlined by darker imagery and text such as ‘exercise responsibility discreetly’, hinting at a darker message.
Several of the artists also draw on their own perspectives of migration and diaspora. Harminder Judge’s works drip down the walls. Seductive colours dim on seeing the titles, ‘Untitled (body to bones to waves)’ and ‘Untitled (two candles separated by the ocean)’; brought to mind are the unavoidable headlines from the failed ocean crossings of refugees and asylum seekers and a reminder that although the ocean seems impossible to colonise, it still holds immense power, both politically and geographically.
Shiraz Bayjoo also references the ocean in ‘Archipelago No. 1’, a panoramic painting that almost fills a wall. Bayjoo uses the colonial tool of the map, once used to chart ‘undiscovered’ lands, in order to reclaim the land and surrounding sea of Mauritius and express his yearning for home.
Through ‘Subcontinent’, a carefully assembled book of poetry and images detailing a larger body of research into the polar circles, Himali Singh-Soin uses the natural environment to explore her geographic position and more broadly to resist colonial narratives. The placement of an emergency foil blanket under the book, leaves viewers contemplating emergency diasporas that have happened already, and may also happen in the near future in relation to the ecological change we are witnessing in the vulnerable arctic.
Despite the intimate size of the exhibition, the viewer comes across a range of perspectives on post-colonialism here, and the possibility of rethinking futures and histories and alternative presents; refreshing to hear these voices from outside the western gaze. The wider conversation continues.
Emily Hale is a London-based artist and curator who is concerned with socio-political issues, the value of arts education, the digital turn, self-organisation and identity politics.