& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, October 07, 2019

Bloody Boats - Akshata Naik

Akshata Naik’s Bloody Boats was part of 2019 Nuit Blanche. The installation comprised red paper boats pasted across the walls of a meeting and performance space at the Gladstone Hotel. Bloody Boats “symbolize the journey of every individual in different capacities, their geographical displacement, and their migration, both emotional and physical. The installation is activated and expanded through the collection of stories from visitors, who are encouraged to draw, write, decorate and fold the paper into a boat to add to the installation.”

“This installation aims at exposing the audience to a complex question of “where is the safe space?”  The work proposes socio-political concepts and conversations, reinforced by the visual experience of hundreds of boats dominating the white space.

Akshata Naik is a contemporary visual artist who has shown her works in the UK, Canada and India. She was recently awarded the newcomer artist mentorship grant by Toronto Arts Council and is known for her interactive community-engaging socio-political art installations. She has received a Master of Visual Arts in Painting from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India.

Q&A with Akshata Naik

Bloody Boats was conceived in 2016 as an artistic response to the Syrian crisis and was showcased in the UK. How is the theme still relevant?  In 2016, the Syrian refugee crisis was an unfolding tragedy that had an immediacy. Today, three years later, it is no longer that immediate. So, why the Red Boats show now.

This work was first triggered when I heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and several people fleeing their country in a boat and those boats drowned in the middle of the sea. Hundreds and thousands of people were losing lives each day and this got me thinking as I was myself traveling from India to UK on an artist residency at De Montford University.

Although, this situation is not immediate anymore, this piece has evolved since I moved to Canada out of my personal journey and experience that of my artistic subject matter. I truly understood what an immigrant life is, what it means to start your life from scratch and to prove oneself each day despite of having a record of decent achievements, skills, education back in India.

However, I also learnt that this was not just my story, but it resonated with all those several hundreds and thousands of people who once migrated here and are still migrating each day. Each person who helped me supported me in my journey so far or even criticized me at every stage has left a unique experience and stories which became a learning in disguise and I have learnt a lot from each one of them and am still learning each day as I get to work in the community through my job as Programs and Gallery manager at Arts Etobicoke. Arts Etobicoke is 48 years old local arts service organization and is City of Toronto’s arms length funded organization that serves people in Etobicoke through arts.

Canada responded to the crisis with alacrity not shown by any other country and permitted thousands of Syrian refugees into the country. Hence, the question - what is the relevance of an artistic reminder to a country and its people who rose to resolve it unitedly.

Although, Canada did respond well to this crisis by offering safe space to thousands of Syrian refugees into the country, this work is not just a reminder to this courteous act of humanity that Canada as a country has set an extraordinary example to rest of the world.
It is also a statement to remind its people of the promise that they have made to these people as I have also come across a lot of racist remarks myself though I am not a refugee but an immigrant who has made this conscious choice of moving to this country and bring in my skills, education and will to learn and excel in Canada.

This was shocking to me as I hailed from a so called third world country to this first world nation. This is a reminder to all those fortunate lives (including myself) that there is a lot that we owe to a lot of people/ community/ humanity who struggle each day for a basic thing called, ‘right to live’

What is your artistic evolution if you are still regurgitating something that you did three years ago.

As an artist, it is challenging for myself to contextualize this piece as it is constantly evolving and I think I have reached a stage in this journey where this work is less of me or about me but more about people who interact with it and make it theirs in the most unique ways.
I am trying to improvise through visual art and let the audience interact with it in most fluid ways. I am open to receiving their love, hatred, disappointment and all kinds of experiences creating a safe space for them to explore and express their stories. I am keen on hearing all these stories which is a crucial thing in my art practice at the moment.

To be a part of Nuit Blanche is commendable. You are also the Manager of Arts Etobicoke. You have managed to find your way into the arts community. How difficult has the journey been?

My journey as a newcomer artist and as a women of colour (as Canadians categorize me as) has been difficult in many ways as I did not have any family when I moved here, I had fairly achieved a stable career as an assistant professor and was given in charge dean position at an early age.

I was only 26 years old when I handled Fine Arts department at Parul University, I will credit this to those who made the decision and put in trust in my skills and education. I have been a good student in my opinion and graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree from India’s renowned Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat and was awarded two gold medals for my performance and final display of art works.

It often is difficult especially for those who have had a great career in their home country and move to Canada as in my opinion Canada still lacks of how they integrate newcomers and the disconnect between their process of accepting international education even when they are evaluated as per Canadian equivalencies and the industry/ job market. It was then when I was offered a job of Programs and Gallery Manager at Arts Etobicoke which is more of my home than just a workplace.

The people who I work with here are not only colleagues but also great family to me now. There have been several organizations that have shaped my career so far in Canada as an artist, arts educator and arts administrator, to name a few, Neilson Park Creative Centre, Art Ignite, Vibe Arts, Cultural Pluralism of Arts in Ontario, Gladstone Hotel, Nuit Blanche, City of Toronto, Toronto Arts Council and Humber College where I studied Arts Administration and have been appointed as Program Advisory Committee Member. I have also been awarded the Newcomer Artist Mentorship Grant by Toronto Arts Council in 2019.

This has been my journey so far, as an artist in Canada.

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