Arts 23 May 2018

DP visual arts exhibition a beautiful connection

By CIS Communications
Photograph by CIS Communications

Did you know that bananas share 50% of their DNA with humans? We didn’t either, but Anushka S, CIS graduate, discovered this interesting tidbit while she was preparing for her DP (Diploma Programme) visual arts exhibition last year. Of course, fruit DNA wasn’t the only topic Anushka explored. As a third culture kid - defined by the BBC as a “citizen of everywhere and nowhere” - Anushka has always felt a sense of ambiguity.

Although she was born in India, the talented young lady confessed that her father’s job kept them on the move so she was not as strongly connected to her roots as she would have liked. This created a disjointed sense of not knowing where she belonged - which eventually inspired some of her artwork for the DP visual art exhibition. We spoke with the CIS graduate to find out more.

What were some of the themes that you explored in your artwork?

I took psychology and I thought it’d be interesting to do some self-exploration into what makes me me, so I decided to touch on individuality and distortion as my main themes. For example, I explored cultural distortion in a few of my art pieces where I address the sense of ambiguity I experience as a third culture kid.

What inspired you to choose cultural distortion as one of your themes?

It was right before the UN week in November last year and I was in a very confused state of mind. I was born an Indian but I grew up in countries outside India so I’ve always had a sense of ambiguity about what my culture is. I’d like to say that India is my home but it doesn’t really feel that way. The same goes for Singapore. Even though I’ve spent the past few years here, it still feels like a temporary phase before I go to university. On the other hand, although I can’t really say that I’m Chinese, I consider China my home because I grew up there and made many lifelong friends.

This feeling of cultural distortion is something that I wanted to show with my artwork. It’s something that resonates with a lot of people that I’ve interacted with. As a third culture kid, you get to experience many wonderful things but it can also confuse you in terms of what you identify with.

Tell us more about the artistic process for your artwork on cultural distortion.

I took photos of 3 models, including myself. I chose the models because they are my friends, Indian and third culture kids who grew up outside India like me. We relate to one another because we feel out of place, even when we return to India. There’s always this subtle feeling that we don’t belong even though it’s technically our culture. At the same time, I didn’t want the theme to come across as too depressing because we get to experience many unique things and that’s a good thing too.

The red and sparkly cloth you see in the photos is the common motif that ties all the photos together. It shows our connection as third culture kids. During the exhibition, I grouped the photos according to the colour of the cloth but swapped the middle one to show physical displacement. So you can see three photos of us but there would always be one that didn’t belong.

Aside from the choice of cloth, what else did you do to the photos to show cultural distortion?

I experimented with a few programs like TEXTman and Audacity to digitally distort the photos but in the end, I decided to go with Photoshop because I liked how the end result looked. Mr Bryn Barnard, my teacher, said that the red, green and blue layers of the distortion look like DNA coding - which is something that didn’t even occur to me until he pointed it out to me.

Were there any memorable moments?

The most memorable part was the positive feedback I received from my friends. After reading my artist blurb, they managed to understand the meaning behind my artwork. This was very meaningful to me because it was the disjointed sense of not belonging anywhere that first inspired me. To have people validate my heartfelt feelings about being a third culture kid really made my day.

What advice would you give to your juniors who are preparing for their own DP visual art exhibition?

I would say that it’s good to get started early even if you are still in grade 11. A lot of grade 12 students got overly excited about the themes they wanted to explore when they were in grade 11 and forgot that they only have very limited time. In the end, they spent too much time on the first few pieces in the first year (grade 11) and realised that they don’t have enough time to finish the rest in grade 12.

My advice is to try and complete 7 or 8 pieces in grade 11 because the workload gets heavier in grade 12 and it would become a lot more challenging to complete your project. You are also required to produce progress portfolio slides on your work so time is of the essence. Don’t be shy to ask your teacher for extensions and if necessary, stay back after school to finish your work.

Another common issue is the tendency to change themes when students return in grade 12. Find the theme you really want to work with and stick to it or you might find yourself getting stuck later on. But of course, it’s important to adapt when you find yourself deviating from your original theme. In my case, my original theme was distortion but I realised that I was subconsciously focusing on identity so I decided to incorporate both themes. The biological approach, which was also one of my underlying themes, came in during my second year. I was doing some research online and I discovered that bananas share 50% of their DNA with humans. I was intrigued by the possibility that humans would have remained bananas if not for evolution so I decided to incorporate a biological approach to my list of themes.

Last but not least, the DP visual arts exhibition is the culmination of all the work you’ve done over the past 2 years so be proud of yourself!