Categorized | Feature, Interviews

Artist explores fashion and identity politics in ‘Upping the Aunty’

Posted on 27 July 2016 by admin

Some wear rhinestones and sequin-adorned jeans, some match baseball caps with saris, others prefer pairing sneakers with floral ensembles: such is the singular style of a South Asian “aunty,” depicted in Canadian artist Meera Sethi’s new series “Upping the Aunty.”

An aunty, Sethi explains, is an “all-encompassing term” in South Asian culture, describing a woman around your mother’s age, a stranger, a friend, or family.

Though there is no one aunty style, a fondness for colour, for bold patterns and prints is a common theme, Sethi explained.

Importantly, aunty style as depicted by Sethi is characterized by duality: a combination of comfort and style (see Sethi’s “Rashida Aunty” in her socks and sandals) and, importantly, a combination of cultures, of east and west.

The exhibit — eight multimedia paintings depicting different aunties — was showed in the First Floor Galleries of Daniels Spectrum, curated by Elle Alconcel. The show follows a street-style photo blog by Sethi, documenting aunties in Canada and India.

Though Sethi graduated from York University with a degree in fine arts in 1998, it took her 10 years to return to art as a professional career.

Finding herself living beside Woolfitt’s, an art supplies store, on Queen St. West, “I was curious about getting my hands dirty with materials again,” Sethi said.

She brought some paint and paper from Woolfitt’s and began to work. The result was her series “Firangi Rang Barangi” — Hindi for “colourful stranger” — paintings that explored the relationship between fashion and identity and the politics of dress.

Sethi’s interest in the subject was sparked at a young age. After immigrating to Canada when she was 2 years old, Sethi would return to New Delhi every year on visits to her grandparents.

The “constant back and forth” and exposure to the distinctive styles, cultures and climate of Canada and India provided Sethi with a wider perspective on culture and fashion, she explained.

 “How do you imagine identity that’s cohesive and whole?” Sethi wondered. “A lot of my work has tried to answer this question.”

For Sethi, aunties have served a conduit between South Asian and Canadian communities.

They are the “entry point into cultural knowledge I wouldn’t otherwise have,” she explained. “My aunties have played a big role in the understanding of myself as a woman.”

Sethi’s project provides an opportunity to celebrate these women, often invisible outside the roles of wife and mother.

With “Upping the Aunty,” Sethi also aimed to challenge popular conceptions of fashion, questioning how age, racism, and diaspora shape our understandings of style, fashion and beauty.

Thanks to Sethi’s project, aunties are finally in the spotlight.

The series — acrylic paint and fabric on canvas, sometimes with crystals, mirrors, or tinsel as well — “challenges a stereotype of who is interesting to look at,” Sethi said. “The aunties I photographed, you’re not going to see them in magazines, or on TV, or on the runway.”

Individual works are for purchase. 

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