Remembering the Future

Mrinalini Sisodia Wadhwa

On Thursday, March 12th, eight student artists from the Class of 2020 presented their visual art exhibitions: Ananya Jain, Jisoo Kwon, Gyuri Kim, Ella Defrin, Kata Bardos, Clara Kendall, Ajooni Bedi, and myself. These exhibitions were the culmination of a process we each began in the Fall of 2018: of probing our interests, passions, inspirations, and sense of self-identity, of defining the messages we sought to express to our viewers, and of translating these many different visions and ideas into a cohesive body of art.

The Art-Making Process

At first glance, these art pieces may provoke an emotional, instinctual, response. Often, that is the intention. Underpinning this instantaneous response is a series of intentional choices made by each artist: creating balance versus throwing viewers off-balance, for instance, or repeating colors and textures versus introducing variety. We often found ourselves attempting to deconstruct the viewer experience, probing for what prompts those emotions or thoughts. Each piece of resolved artwork in the exhibition thus represented an amalgamation of choices. Some, we made after researching the art-making practices of other artists. Others came from learning how our classmates perceived our work during class critiques. Others more came from experimentation and trial and error in the studio, often taking place outside class time on Saturday afternoons or free periods.

The Exhibitions

In these conditions, the works that emerged in our final exhibitions were incredibly diverse, reflecting the diversity of worldviews, experiences, cultural influences, and intentions each of us held. Yet when placed in the exhibition hall, we saw how they also spoke to one another.

The set-up began with Ananya’s exhibition, The Human Condition, delving into our self-consciousness through lenses including science and religion. Ella’s Utopian Dystopias then explored subjective understandings of the world: how one person’s utopian ideal is another’s dystopian nightmare. In The Butterfly Effect, Clara found meaning amidst the macabre, reflecting on the interlinked influences of different events on an individual’s life. Gyuri’s Threads of Time and Place exemplified another kind of synthesis: she brought together traditional and modern Korea, Rococo-esque opulence, her experience of India, and a passion for fashion as a means of self-expression.

Opposite these works, Ajooni’s The Presence of the Past focused specifically on the influence of memories, exploring their role in shaping self-identity and global events. Alongside her artworks, Kata and Jisoo examined the broader societal influences over the individual. Kata forayed into surrealist art forms in Out of Character to convey the often unsettling power culture and stereotypes hold over individuals. In Hidden Identity, Jisoo  confronted the standards of ideal beauty imposed on women head-on, satirizing and challenging them through her artworks. My exhibition, Invictus, carried a similarly defiant tone, challenging the exclusion of female change-makers from mainstream history and reminding the viewers of their own ability to transcend.

"Remembering The Future"

It feels impossible to discuss our art show this year without addressing the conditions in which it emerged. When the global COVID-19 situation began to escalate, the unease permeating our community was felt acutely in the art studio. We had anxiously followed the immense challenges faced by fellow art students in Eastern and Southeast Asia earlier in 2020. Would we be unable to come on campus to finish our last studio pieces? Would the show happen at all?

On Saturday, March 7th, as AES prepared for the imminent shift to continuous learning, we all learnt of a decision: we would move the art show date up from Tuesday, March 17th, to Thursday, March 12th. In those five days every individual involved in this show worked with a burst of energy. I believe I speak on behalf of the eight of us in expressing our tremendous gratitude to the many people who made Thursday possible: Ms. Carolyn Nelson, Ms. Ritu Mehta, Mr. Param Lal and Mr. Rakesh, alongside Mr. Syed and the remainder of the AES Administration, and all members of the HS Art Department.

There was something very surreal about walking into the Auxiliary gym on Thursday evening after we had finally put up all the artworks. The tall white panels, the spotlights, the soft ambient music enveloped us. Two years of ideating, creating, and refining had come to a close; the show itself had come together in mere days. Hours afterwards, we learnt it was our last night on campus in March; days later, we all began to scatter, returning close to home—wherever that might be—as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

A month ago, we had chosen to title this show Remembering the Future because it seemed to bring together our diverse points of view as artists: history, memory, societal influences, utopia, dystopia. Now, there is this sense of déjà vu. “Remembering” that our humanity has been thwarted and challenged for as long as it has existed—by historical figures, decay and disease, dystopian realities,—each artist had expressed a vision for the future. Now, these artistic visions provide a rare solace.