Shivani Vyas

Shivani Vyas on Turbulent Identities by Altered Esthetics

Shivani Vyas is a Curatorial Assistant with Altered Esthetics. She is directing the upcoming Ae exhibition, Turbulent Identities, which will be on view at The Southern Theater 3/3 - 4/2/2017. We are accepting submissions for Turbulent Identities through 1/29/2017:  

Nalini Malani,  Childhood fears , 2009, Numerical pigmentary print, 54.6 cm x 76 cm

Nalini Malani, Childhood fears, 2009, Numerical pigmentary print, 54.6 cm x 76 cm

Shivani, give us a brief bio: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

I am originally from Washington State and I am finishing up my Art History major at St. Olaf College. I’m currently working at Flaten Art Museum as a collections and museum assistant. I’m also an intern for Gallery 71 and obviously Altered Esthetics as well.

You are currently a student at St. Olaf College. Why did you decide to study art?

My interest in art manifested through my volunteer work at Seattle Art Museum during my sophomore year of high school. My passion in art comes from its powerful potential to initiate discussion, educate and influence. For me, the most important part of art is how the juxtaposition and display of artwork plays a huge part in the way it is received by audiences. Today my passion focuses on historical accuracy of artifacts and the narratives that museums emphasize through curation.

Photo of Shivani Vyas

Photo of Shivani Vyas

The intention of this exhibition is to create a discussion around cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. What was your inspiration for the Turbulent Identities exhibition?

My inspiration for this exhibition comes from personal experience. As an Indian American brought up in Seattle, Washington, I found it difficult to balance my two identities. I felt I was American, but not American enough, and when I went to India I found that I was Indian, but not Indian enough. It is painful to remember the time when I was ashamed of being Indian to the point where the fact that my parents carried their culture through their accents and style would bother me. I found myself trying to assimilate into American society by hiding my accent and adapting my food choices so they were more closely aligned with the less-fragrant foods that most students brought to school.  I felt the need to closet a part of my identity that I deeply appreciate today. So having to understand how these two identities have shaped me into who I am today took a long time and it still continues to be a point of reflection for me. These experiences have made me sensitive to the way different cultures and traditions are misrepresented and commodified in much of Euro-American/Anglo-American society. Many immigrants and people of color experience microaggressions with regard to the way they dress and speak, so it is frustrating to see mass media trivialize these exact traditions for the purpose of profit. This frustration collided with my passion for art this past year when I was studying art in context in London and one of my classes focused heavily on the narratives enforced in museums. Understanding how colonization silenced the narratives of the colonized at such institutions helped me realize that the appropriation of cultures and the looting of goods and narratives are rarely acknowledged. This exhibition seeks to create a space in which such narratives are recognized and addressed.

What do you hope artists gain by participating in this exhibition?

I hope that artists can use this space as a platform where they can express their cultural identities through art and constructive dialogue.

What do you hope viewers will take away from this exhibition?

I hope that viewers leave this exhibition with a better understanding of cultural appropriation and the urge to continue discussion outside of the exhibit space.

Kehinde Wiley,  Saint Adelaide , 2014, Stained Glass, 96" X 43.5"

Kehinde Wiley, Saint Adelaide, 2014, Stained Glass, 96" X 43.5"

Who are some of your favorite artists that address these complex ideas of identity and cultural exchange?

Shahzia Sikander, Nalini Malani, Kehinde Wiley, and Aidan Salkhova.

To submit work to Turbulent Identities, complete the web form by 1/29/2017:  


Interview written and edited by Sarah Kass