As you approach Twelve Gates, your eyes immediately fall upon dolls clothed in shards of mirrored glass, suspended from the ceiling of the big picture window. Dolls that represent female icons (Beyonce, Frida Kahlo, PJ Harvey) often seen as other-worldly entities capable of astounding creative feats.
A flashy opening to Twelve Gates latest group exhibition called, Zarbardast (zuhb-are-dust); an Urdu term that translates roughly to ‘Awesome!’ or ‘Terrific!’ – you are encouraged to say this word with great gusto and vim- like a whoop or a war cry.
Zarbardast is one of the strongest shows Twelve Gates Arts has shown in recent years, due in part to guest curator, Jasmine Wahi. What Wahi assembled here at Twelve Gates are standout pieces with strong individual voices from artists she’s worked with in previous shows; no disappointment there – Wahi’s strong suit is her ability to use different methods to reinvent her trademark gender empowering lineups that retain their freshness and relevancy.
For Wahi, Zarbardast is “an homage to the women who are enthusiastically revered for their originality, strength, and self-motivated power…women who unabashedly break the boundaries, disrupt the normative societal expectation, and embrace the frenetic glory of needed change.”
Now let’s go back to talking about artist Rachel Mason’s crazy dolls decked out in mirror ball jumpsuits aesthetics. They are Mason’s female idols – clothed in mirrors one would assume Mason does what anyone does with their idols – turns them into reflective entities; identifies with and sees herself in them. Perhaps making these dolls helps her form a bond with the women whose creative forces she chooses to put on display here. Not to be missed, the video projection of Mason singing in front of her dolls in matching mirrored garb.
There are show standouts, like, Brooklyn-based photographer Anjali Bhargava whose intimate portraits explore generational identity conflicts within culture. Two of the strongest photographs (The Least Dutiful Wife, The Least Orthodox Goddess) from her 2012 mixed-media piece, “Unsuitable Girls,” are seen here. They depict poster girls for the breakage of societal norms whose identities are paired with symbolizing trophies.
Bhargava collaborated with Swati Khurana who created the series of trophies the women are photographed with. In ‘The Least Dutiful Wife’ a woman is shown lounging in bed surrounded by cups of tea and stacked books – one stack, in particular, is crowned with a trophy that reads, ‘Least Dutiful Wife’. The beauty of the piece is the space it allows us to inhabit both mentally and physically. I have to grin at the tapestry of books Bhargva adds to the shot –most dealing with characters that either struggle with identity, try to make peace with cultural traditions, or deal with banishment from normal society.
Other highlights include Leila Lal’s exploration of female identity in the mixed media piece Untitled, very similar to her Peep Show pieces where iconic Bollywood film heroines are framed off and displaced in culturally opposite religious architectural settings.
Then there’s Maria Berrio who uses patterned papers and images, to depict re-appropriated stories found in South American folklore. She stays true to her visual storytelling here, adding texture by using colored rhinestones to embellish the portraits in her pieces. I could be going off into left field here, but within the context of these portraits, her use of patterning reminds me of the colorful Aboriginal dot work used to embellish art in order to tell important narrative stories of life and birth.
Whatever you see in the show’s work, one thing is for sure, the energy from the women in this lineup is not to be missed.
Zabardast will run at Twelve Gates Arts from February 6 – 28, 2015.