Utsa Hazarika: Living As A Nation

January 9, 2022 – February 13, 2022
Queens Museum

Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Queens, NY

Installation view of Living As A Nation by Utsa Hazarika at Queens Museum. Photo by Hai Zhang.

Installation view of Living As A Nation by Utsa Hazarika at Queens Museum. Photo by Hai Zhang.

Living As A Nation is an evolving installation of artwork and research that traces connections forged by diasporic communities outside of the often militarized borders of South Asian nation states. Through a focus on this hybridity of the histories and contemporary political movements of South Asia and its diaspora, the artist centers the power of collective memory to counter political acts of disempowerment or erasure.

Hazarika’s sculptures take their form from the medieval sundials in the Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, India. The artist situates the observatory within its contemporary significance as a site synonymous with political protest. As two corresponding forms with intersecting shadows, the sundials are re-imagined as sculptural metaphors for diaspora and resistance, and draw upon the aspiration of star-gazing in astronomy.

The sculptures anchor two video projects based on the artists’ research on cultural and political movements in Delhi and the United Kingdom. The former traces marginalized narratives of belonging and identity in Delhi, and draws on acts of defiance by communities that work to claim their citizenship within hostile urban and state mechanisms. The latter focuses on postcolonial immigrant expression from the British Commonwealth. Featuring footage of cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall and the striking women at Grunwick in the 1970s, this project interweaves these historical landmarks of postcolonial resistance with present-day protests and contemporary narratives in British music and literature.

Over time, the contents of this gallery have shifted and grown to reveal different combinations of still and moving images, sculpture, and ephemera configured to embody spatial and temporal transits. Installed at the start of the exhibition in September 2021, two young night-blooming jasmine plants have grown to produce flowers in bloom. The artist draws on South Asian architectural forms to situate an artificially constructed environment built to keep the plants alive. Native to tropical climates in the Caribbean and South Asia, when in bloom these plants release a smell that is distinctive to these regions. Hazarika employs this sensory experience as a metaphor for diaspora and borderlessness, as the viewer navigates the structures around the plants.