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Taking inspiration from a number of exhibits at the Cantor Arts Centre at Stanford, I created a piece through which I wanted to explore the following idea

Do we forge our individual identities exclusively based on our life experiences, or is part of our identity unchangeable,a result of the circumstances that we are born into? I have been grappling with this question for a while, thinking whether I can completely get rid of those aspects of my culture (which in turn are part of my identity) that I don’t necessarily agree with. Through an artwork, I want to explore all facets of my identity, including those that i have been trying to shrug under the carpet for a long time.

Working Sketches

The following are sketches of the exhibits at the museum that I gravitated towards, and a few words that summarized my take on them.

The Shoe-Cup

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The weird juxtaposition between the shoe and the cup holder in this exhibit from Sierra Leone felt uneasy. It shines light on how identities morph over time in any culture, and in this particular case, how colonization ended up influencing the design of an everyday object that had been in use long before the colonizers arrived.

The Mask

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This tribal mask from Liberia made me think long and hard about those aspects of my identity that I am not particularly proud of. The mask’s piercing gaze strongly reminded me about my ancestors who, although are now an integral part of my homeland, Pakistan’s history, were conquerers who killed and maimed thousands during their time. It also made me ponder on how humans have an innate ability to unleash violence on others, and how most of us would deny that we harbor this ability within ourselves.

The Guardian

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The somewhat stoic pose of this guardian figure from Indonesia summed up how I often feel about my own identity: frustrated, aloof and alienated from aspects of it which I don’t agree with.

First Version of the Piece

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The feedback that I got from this piece was that I had tried to address too many ideas in it, and it just felt muddled and incoherent. Also, there were a few aesthetic decisions that I had taken which didn’t come off well in the piece, and I decided to make another attempt at it while rewording the initial prompt as follows:

Do we forge our identities consciously, or is a major part of it beyond our control, shaped entirely by the circumstances that we are born into? This exhibit is an illustration of a motley of traditional artifacts from countries where I have lived a substantial portion of my life. Collectively, they represent my attempt of incorporating elements from the cultures of these regions into my identity. Furthermore, by using colors as a proxy for the desirable and undesirable facets of my identity, I aim to highlight how despite the best of efforts,I am unable to completely get rid of certain aspects of my identity that I have been born with.

Final Version of the Piece

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I am pleased with how the final version of this piece came out. Drawing something like this after a gap of more than a decade was challenging, but it was also extremely enjoyable. It also rekindled my interest in completing more artsy projects this year, something that I intend on doing.


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