Coalesce is a collage series that explores themes of identity, displacement and assimilation, through the eyes of two designers.
Preethi Jagadeesh and Emily Soo
Emily is barely holding on to the last few Chinese characters (Big, Person, Door, I, One, Two, Small, Fire) that she is able to put on paper, fragile and fleeting. The floating square boxes surrounding these characters (reminiscent of repetitive dictations given when she attended Chinese school as a child) reinforces the required discipline to learn the language.
Preethi examines the layered nature and the complexities of the lived experiences that one has with one's language. In her piece, she brings together her relationships with the places she has belonged to, both visually and linguistically. Her sense of displacement in Dubai as an impossible citizen, her ties with the languages of Kannada and Hindi, and the deepest connection to home that she has, buried within the unnamed and scriptless dialect with influences of Tamil and Kannada, are represented through the different transparencies in her photographs.
Lai See (lucky red pockets) are often exchanged during times of celebration. They are given to one another as an act of good fortune and luck, containing bills or coins inside the envelopes. Emily's mother owns a collection through the decades, including ones from her wedding day. She has selected iconic symbols (such as peaches and traditional characters) and lucky phrases that would be commonly found on these red pockets. These iconic gold embossings are isolated from the Lai See to better highlight the intricate drawings.
Having lived in places outside of India has still never managed to bring Preethi too far from her cultural roots. Every Hindu festival from the times she barely remembers, till today, are celebrations that are etched in her memory solely due to the vigorous presence of colour. A common element in these festivals, right from the birthdays of the gods and goddesses to the wedding ceremonies are incomplete without uncooked rice rolled in turmeric powder and kumkum, and… of course, flowers.
Emily has always admired the "cheongsam" dress and longs to wear one. This traditional outfit is often worn by the bride during her wedding tea ceremony, where she and her husband offer a cup of tea to married family and friends as a symbol of gratitude. "Lai see" and gifts are then presented to the newly married couple for good luck. In the film "In the Mood for Love", the protagonist Maggie Cheung is often seen wearing a cheongsam, in an array of colours and patterns. This film has resonated with Emily for a long time, with it's thoughtful dialogue, moody cinematography and of course sophisticated wardrobe. The cheongsam exudes sophistication and confidence. She can't wait to own one, one day.
When Preethi walks the streets of India and is surrounded by women dressed in colourful salwar kameezes, sarees, printed skirts, kurtis, and various other beautiful garments, it may also be noticed that very rarely are they mere solid colours. Often, the surface of the garment is either embellished or printed over with the most delicate floral patterns and motifs. Different patterns using similar styles can also be found on other fabrics used all over India. Of course, she chooses to only wear these garments whenever she visits India, her Western clothing forgotten in the depths of her suitcases. When she’s back, she endlessly awaits opportunities to wear them again.
Smoke rising from glowing incenses, food offerings and hands clasped together are some of the images that come to mind when giving our prayers in the Chinese culture. When praying to the dead, one bring fruits (mostly apples and oranges), bao (steamed buns), and pour cups of tea and liquor for them to enjoy, while leaving a glowing incense that will continue to glow long after we depart.
The act of lighting a lamp and the chanting of prayers are immensely significant to those who practice Hinduism. Flowers tied together with string to form small garlands are offered to the Gods and then handed back, which are then tied with the strands of women’s hair after receiving blessings.
Emily has always been drawn to the red seals stamped to each piece of artwork by it's artist, as it's a work of art in itself. These intricate signatures are often enclosed in a square or circle, always in red. She received a necklace with her Chinese name carved on the bottom, which also resembled a stamp. Using this stamp, she created a uniform pattern that interacted with the fluid brush strokes found in traditional Chinese characters.
When she was little, Preethi was taught by her mother the art of the Rangoli. It has always fascinated her, as they are beautiful patterns that are created on the floors using coloured rice and sand, flour or flower petals. Her most cherished memories include her grandmother’s beautiful chalk rangolis in front of the gate to their house in Bangalore every morning, even before the birds began to chirp. When Preethi decided to draw the Rangoli, she decided to draw it the way her mother taught her, using equidistant dots and joining them in different ways -- a method used by many and, for Preethi, a very dear memory.
Wasabi peas (crunchy spicy peas), shrimp crackers and Pocky (strawberry dipped biscuit sticks) were some of Emily's favourite childhood snacks. Her aunt would often have a cabinet full of tasty snacks that she would share with Emily and her family whenever they visited. She might have enjoyed these treats a bit too much as she’s had her share of cavities!
Having grown up in Dubai with a bunch of crazy kids who loved their candy, Preethi almost never lived a day without it. She can still almost taste the bursts of flavour packed in the bubblegums, hard and chewy candies that she and her best friend would buy from the grocery store downstairs with the cost on their parents’ account. Yes, boy did they get in trouble for that!