COMMISSIONS | 2020

Poulomi Desai

Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next

For our commissioning project Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, Poulomi Desai created a series of images inoculated with bacteria, considering how we might attempt to control the uncontrollable.

Poulomi Desai is a multimedia artist whose activist practice is anchored in what she describes as an ‘electromagnetic dissonant black noise for future dreams’. For more than three decades, Desai developed collaborative investigations and provocations, using performance, language, photography and sound to create compelling art advocacy projects.

Autograph commissioned Desai to create new work in response to the wider context of the Covid-19 pandemic for our project Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other. Her new series Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next (2020) takes it cue from Arundhati Roy’s essay The Pandemic as Portal, published at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. Desai collaborated with her elderly mother to make these densely layered works using everyday rituals of disinfecting and communicating through barriers as an opportunity to reflect on the economics of care, control and compliance. In these twelve works Desai inoculated a series of petri dishes with bacteria combining personal ephemera, salvaged debris and newspaper clippings to evoke the spread of the virus – photographing them at various stages of their evolution.

To contextualise this new artist commission Autograph invited writer and curator Tarini Malik to reflect on notions of cultural heritage, collaboration and familial relationships. This short essay is published alongside an in-conversation between the artist and Autograph's director Mark Sealy.

TEXTS

Life, Death and Everything in Between
Read curator Tarini Malik's response to Desai's new commission

Our Cultures are the Portals: In Conversation with Poulomi Desai
Autograph's director Mark Sealy speaks with the artist


VIEW THE COMMISSION

Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next (2020)







Desai's commission also includes five works that are overlaid with semi-transparent A4 acetate sheets. These pieces add an additional layer of meaning to the initial photographs, drawing the viewer’s attention to different parts of the image, concealing elements whilst emphasising others. In the artist’s own words:

“Floating on top of the sealed petri dish portraits / landscapes, all the prints are, in a way, hyper-representations of the original works. As part of the process of discovering what might unfold, a small acetate print was embedded in the first petri dish created: one pre-sealant / ‘pre- decontamination’, and one after being sealed’.” — Poulomi Desai


ABOUT THE ARTIST




Poulomi Desai is a multimedia artist whose activist practice is anchored in what she describes as an ‘electromagnetic dissonant black noise for future dreams’. For more than three decades, Desai developed collaborative investigations and provocations, using performance, language, photography and sound to create compelling art advocacy projects. 

Desai has dedicated many years to photographing diverse queer communities, brought together in the exhibition and book Red Threads: The South Asian Queer Connection in Photographs (1980 – 2003). In the 1980s and 90s Desai co-founded several important initiatives – such as the first South Asian LGBTTQ+ campaigning organisation Shakti; the Naz Foundation International (an HIV / AIDS charity in India), and the HAC theatre company. Since 2010, Desai has led Usurp Art gallery and studios, the first and only artist-led creative space in the London Borough of Harrow. Her recent haptic works form part of the Heritage Quay archives, where she has been a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow since 2016.

Desai’s recent performances and installations include Fort Process, Clandestino, Colour Out Space, Supernormal Festivals and appearances at Café Oto, London. She has been commissioned in the past by Autograph, Serpentine Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, Science Museum, Iniva, and internationally by The Queens Museum (USA) and The Oxford Gallery (India) amongst many others. She is currently working with The Bishopsgate Institute on the preservation of her historical archives.


About the project


Initiated during the first months of lockdown in 2020, Autograph has commissioned a constituency of ten UK-based creative practitioners in our immediate artistic community to create an open-ended visual arts project in response to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Working with photography, film and lens-based media, Autograph’s curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora have been in close dialogue with each artist to produce these new bodies of work. The artist commissions reflect Autograph’s long-standing work advocating for photography and film to address visual politics of rights, race and representation.

Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other will be presented as a group exhibition at Autograph's gallery in Shoreditch, London, from autumn 2021.

FIND OUT MORE

Read our senior curator Renée Mussai's introduction to the Care | Contagion | Community project

View the completed artist commissions

Visit the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other exhibition at Autograph

Purchase a copy of the Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other book from Autograph's online shop

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Can you spare a few moments? Autograph is carrying out a survey to better understand who our digital audiences are. The survey should take no longer than five minutes to complete. Anything you tell us will be kept confidential, is anonymous and will only be used for research purposes.

The information you provide will be held by Autograph and The Audience Agency, who are running the survey on our behalf. In compliance with GDPR, your data will be stored securely and will only be used for the purposes it was given.

You can take the survey here. Thank you!

AN AUTOGRAPH COMMISSION



SUPPORTED BY

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England


Image captions: Works from Poulomi Desai's commission Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next, 2020, © and courtesy the artist, commissioned by Autograph for Care I Contagion I Community – Self & Other . 1) [detail] from commission. 2-17) Works from the commission. Archival giclée prints, each 12 x 12 inches.

Other page images: 18) Courtesy Poulomi Desai.