Katharine Fry interview with Alia Pathan
Alia Pathan’s Fire Rooster runs from 4 May—16 June with a Reading Group & Panel Discussion on Wednesday 13 June.


KF           I started reading this and thinking about it as a journey and with the competing soundscape of the gallery its hard to pick out if I’m listening to a family to story, a collection of stories archival texts – I’m getting nuggets of a multigenerational family growing up in very different geographical regions – tell me some more about the sound pieces


AP          As you walk into the show there’s 3 sound pieces from the White Tiger Project, a research project I started the beginning of this year, looking at second and third generation descendants of East African Indian indentured laborers, that came from India to East Africa which is the same as my heritage. I will at some point open that out to people who left East Africa at the same time (while it was under British colonial rule) and moved to other countries within Africa. But for the moment this archive is focusing on descendants who live in England because for these people they are often 80 – 100 years removed from their ethnic heritage. And the stories are focused on what their lives are like whether they can’t remember anything all the history has been cut off from them. For them it’s about creating a sense of home and identity for themselves. For example one of the participants says when people ask her where she is from she can’t answer truthfully about her provenance. There seems to be an insistence on provenance especially within contemporary art and in political discussions today…. And if you’re a          diaspora… it feels untrue to call one place your home. That’s why this archive opens the show, and instead of a press release – their stories create my context when there isn’t already a context written for me


KF           There’s a multiple leap deracination that’s getting pictures of different memories and stories but none of which seem to be a true answer for each of the subjects in question – a reach here, a reach there, maybe someone was here – but I wasn’t and I’m not there


AP           What I wanted from the beginning of this project was to create an archive that is based on imagination – imagination being just as much a part of your memory as you having experienced something first hand. So for these participants their understanding of themselves, their ancestors and history is based as much upon their own imagination as what they have been told by their parents – and so much of this is dependent on your ability to imagine – which is why it was important to make the oral history archive.  But because I’m a visual person working with video and sculpture I wanted to create an archive that was visually bouncing like this (MIA – Galang Galang plays from a clip of a club scene called Gay Bombay) exciting to enter into and to resonate with.


These are made up from clips of documentaries or films, things I identified with as a child or that exists today that say something about who I am.  And in a way pop culture has been very influential in reflecting a sense of my identity, creating a context my work can sit within when there otherwise isn’t a context that directly reflects me already.


KF           From here my eyes go to the Offerings piece on the floor its sort of a reflecting lake, a magical mirror, a portal, an interplay of plane, reflection, surface and depth, then the coconuts and what looks like moulded sugarcane  – then we connect from there to this (animated) globe that spins with multiple narratives – can you say more about the journey through the show first of all, then also about the pop culture references that are coming alive in this work


AP          Offerings is made up of objects that my mother and me took too a shrine on my trip to India this year – which was my first ever trip to India. I wanted to create – what you describe as a portal – something that describes travelling back to somewhere I’ve never been before, going home to somewhere I’ve never lived – so being there with my mother who is a former British colonial subject and who came here as a Ugandan refugee – The idea of home for her shifts quite a lot and is created through language (no one speaks Hindi in India, everyone speaks their own local language) similarly for me this language is a visual language – this work is trying to represent what these things mean spiritually and in terms of what we mean by ‘home’.


KF           What was the shrine?


AP           I had seen images on Getty or Google – it was the only thing architecturally that represented by ancestry – and I know through oral history that many of my ancestors have visited that shrine. It was difficult to find – locals know it by so many different names, and the names are changing due to decolonization that’s currently going on in India – but its one of the last Hindu-Islamic syncretic shrines. The other is the Haji Ali Darga in Mumbai that is referenced in the (animation) Brown Gal Time Machine


KF           Ok – Now I’m completely tantalized with the Time Machine!


AP          The brown gal time machine is a way of documenting my own history or ancestry made up through pop culture references that also documents who I am. In pop-culture, news media – especially in contemporary art I find it incredibly difficult to place myself anywhere because I don’t see much work from female/queer/gay POC who are also Muslim – I don’t see so much of that around so it difficult for my work to find a conversation to sit within. So the time machine for me is a way to start that conversation – to locate myself within a history when much of my own history has been hidden away or destroyed -


KF           – It’s the work of asking ‘what can be made through creating the missing archive’ – the past that hasn’t yet been excavated that can express a present and a future that you can be in, fully articulate and part of


AP          Sure, you can see that in the scene of The Little Princess – or in points at which I can see myself reflected on screen – and these are fractured, glimpses – the characters are talking about and imagining exotic places they would go to if they were rich and that’s so pertinent to a piece that is built through imagination – especially in locating a sense of home through sense perception. These two girls talk about a place through smell they identify as home though both of them are displaced from it, they can conjure it in their minds -



KF           In terms of this shared imaginative travel – they can reclaim a past that’s been lost for both of them and perhaps open a future


AP          It’s also about our perception of the orient – its often presented as very exotic. We might think – raw cane sugar and coconuts, what a stereotype! But somewhere in that is the connection with being a brown person, an ex-colonial subject so these second hand references and stereotypes are embedded when you are a diaspora, – they might be cheesy by they are objects and references that allow some kind of visibility -


KF           – But also it can limit visibility through only being framed within being a stereotype. The framing of an exotic fruit can miss the idea of being framed as a complete subject too -


AP          – That brings me onto the opera video – its from Rinaldo by Handel, set during the first crusades in Syria, when two Muslims are captured and converted to Christianity, so it resonates with current themes in fascist politics, and also themes of capture and enslavement within the context of that opera, Handel is know to have invested in the slave trade twice,  – The song is essentially singing about freedom so there is a duplicity there when writing a song about dreaming of liberty.

That piece was filmed between Kassel, Venice and Brighton – Brighton Pavilion specifically because that’s here recitals of Handel’s music were often played – also this was a palace for a King who threw flamboyant parties, the building inside is opulent and over the top.


KF           What’s the song expressing, is it a duet or a solo aria?


AP           “Let me weep over my cruel fate, and dream of my liberty. The duel infringes in this place…. and I pray for forgiveness…” So religion, queer identity, colonialism, opulence and the orient all come together in that building – and its the first time I’ve felt any sense of representation in any kind of architecture – even though it is somewhere as ridiculous as the RBP!


Katharine Fry (British, b. Belgium 1981) works in video installation with a background in performance. Marrying a mid-century aesthetic with a gothic strategy, Fry’s primary character is a female figure contained in an interior space and by the screen frame. Seeming barely alive, her vitality is only registered through blinks and breaths as she carries carry out arbitrary and ultimately purposeless tasks. Fry then stages her videos as encounters with bodies. Each work plays out as an intimate confrontation with the viewer invited to perform a particular physical proximity.

Her work is permeated with ambivalence. Her character appears physically caught between enclosure and protection and psychically lingers between inertia and withdrawal. Through a feminist process, Fry turns her interest to enmeshment and individuation, automatism and interiority, strategies of in/action and pathologies of development.

She is currently completing House Arrest, a practice-based PhD at Goldsmiths. www.katharinewheel.com


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