India | Swati Khurana on Rituals, Resistance, and Assimilation

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Swati Khurana. Letters.Swati Khurana. “Love Letters As Necessary Fictions.” 2008. Paper, ink, found miniature-display box. 



SWATI KHURANA. WHAT IS YOUR ARTRed and gold are recurring actors in Indian-born Swati Khurana‘s repertoire. They appear sometimes as superheroes, sometimes as supporting characters and, just as they are in her memory, the colors are always vivid. These are the hues of the artist’s childhood.

In many Hindu traditions, a red thread is tied by a priest, teacher or relative; it is meant to ward off evil spirits and worn until it wears off. Red was the color of Khurana’s wedding sari; she describes it as the color of innocence and of love. She recalls bold, colorful swatches, ornate costumes and gold trimmings from her mother’s closet. It is this traditional Indian aesthetic with which she identifies and pulls into her practice.

Born in India, Swati Khurana arrived in America at the age of two. Her family lived in the South Bronx, where her father was a hospital resident, before moving to Hudson Valley, NY. There, she would spend her formative years.

There’s a different kind of politics that happens as an outsider . . . maintaining rituals becomes a strategy for creating community and resisting assimilation.

Having grown up in the midst of a suburban, Christian society, Khurana’s strong, cultural identity was garnered from inside the home, family, religion and rituals in the Indian immigrant community. She recalls her family’s structured practice of visiting the the temple in Hudson Valley and her father’s political involvement with its restoration—events that might not have occurred with such intensity, had it not been for their immigrant position. “There’s a different kind of politics that happens as an outsider . . . maintaining rituals becomes a strategy for creating community and resisting assimilation,” she states. “This is what makes me interested in how people engage in rituals.”

Working in embroidery, mixed-media illustration and collage, installation and even film, Khurana explores gender, ethnicity, rituals and behaviors that are very specific to Indian immigrant culture. She assembles projects from memories, noting how these rituals take on an entirely new shape when in the United States, where they are sometimes practiced with added fervor as a means of maintaining tradition and identity.

A substantial body of Khurana’s work has revolved around her marriage, as well as themes of family and expectations in Indian culture. Her own multi-day wedding ceremony, experienced in America, epitomized the breadth of Hindu tradition: It included five separate events; adornment and decoration; specific roles for family and community members; the invocation of prescribed deities; sacred foods, spices and scents; blessings, prayers and promises—all carried out with choreographed precision over a three-day period. As the oldest and first to be married of her generation, the wedding represented not only one of the most important sanskaras (or rites of passage) a Hindu observes, but a milestone for the family—many of its members visited the U.S. for the very first time to attend.

Khurana wed her teenage sweetheart, with whom she had been exchanging international love letters for several years. The marriage has since ended, but its rich cultural and deeply personal significance continued to find its way into her creative process. Although, she describes brides as ‘consumable artifacts’ and points out ‘the inherent performative quality of weddings,'” she uses her art to revisit the ceremony with affection, reverence, and with some measure of mourning: “Mourning the end of the relationship, the wedding itself, objects of the wedding . . . mourning a larger thing—the end of an era of young lovers that communicated via love letters,” the artist shares.

ten_sent_and_receivedSwati Khurana. “Sent and Received.” Paper, ink, found painted wooden birdcage. 2008.

These letters bear the marks of having traveled across continents; they have been emotionally penned and anxiously awaited on the other end. A cherished decade’s worth of them appear in “Ten Year’s Later”—a series of installations that includes the hand-written love notes, wrapped or pierced with red thread and enshrined in gilded bird cages with objects from the wedding, digitally collaged photographs, illustrations, and other remnants of Indian tradition and ethnicity.

The bird cages appear almost pantheonic. One can only imagine if they are meant to protect memories, prevent them from flying away, or if they represent a sense of captivity in which one is held to enduring customs. This is where Swati’s work, at once, celebrates, questions and examines those rituals and traditions carried over from former lives and binding immigrant communities.


Swati Khurana has various bodies of work addressing and often challenging traditions, especially as they influence women in Indian society. “Unsuitable Girls”—a collaboration with photographer Anjali Bhargava where South Asian women can nominate themselves to pose with trophies bearing titles, such as “Least Dutiful Wife” and “Most Reluctant Housekeeper”—is currently on view at The Smithsonian as part of the “Beyond Bollywood: Indians in America” exhibition through March 2015. Additionally, she will be exhibiting selected projects made during her residency at Center for Book Arts from April 18 – June 28, 2014.

Photo of Swati Khurana by Anjali Bhargava.


Misha McGlownMisha McGlown is an artist, arts educator, curator and active member of the creative community in Harlem, New York City. She currently serves as Program Director for the LeRoy Neiman Art Center and has managed programs for The Children’s Art Carnival (NY), Artists Collective for Social Change (NJ) and Congreso Girls’ Center (PA). She has exhibited and curated throughout New York City and has been awarded artistic grants by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Puffin Foundation, and Harlem Arts Alliance. 




OF NOTE Magazine is free to readers, free of advertising, and free of subscriptions—all made possible by generous supporters like you. Your tax tax-deductible gift will help us continue to feature innovative and emerging global artists using the arts as tools for social change. OF NOTE Magazine is a fiscally sponsored organization of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. 

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×


16 Responses to “India | Swati Khurana on Rituals, Resistance, and Assimilation”
  1. Ellfemn says:

    Viagra 88 Keys Lyrics Cialis Levitra Sales Viagra Cialis 20mg Vs 10mg cialis 5mg best price Viagra Vente Libre Quebec

  2. Ellfemn says:

    Doxycycline 40 Mg Online viagra Donde Comprar Viagra En Murcia Acheter De Viagra Viagra Sur Homme

  3. Ellfemn says:

    Buy Cheap Viagra From Canada cialis Viagra Sin Receta Andorra Propecia Seguridad Social

  4. Fast Proxies says:

    Best quality USA proxies – obtain with 50 discount!

  5. secure proxy says:

    Hi there! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done
    a extraordinary job!

  6. If you ant to grow your know-how simply keep visiting
    this web site and be updated with the most up-to-date information posted here.

  7. Antonia says:

    Thanks I needed this

  8. usa proxies says:

    Have you ever thought about addinng a little bit more than just you articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and all. Nevertheless imagine if you added some great pictures orr video clips to give your posts
    more, “pop”! Your content iss excellent but with images and clips,
    this blog could definitely be one of the best in its field.

    Superb blog!

  9. nike react says:

    I would like to point out my love for your kindness supporting persons that need help with this important situation. Your special dedication to passing the message all through had been definitely insightful and has regularly enabled guys just like me to realize their goals. Your personal invaluable instruction implies this much a person like me and a whole lot more to my office workers. Thanks a ton; from each one of us.

  10. I just wanted to develop a comment so as to appreciate you for the pleasant pointers you are giving at this website. My incredibly long internet lookup has at the end of the day been recognized with reliable concept to go over with my colleagues. I ‘d say that many of us site visitors are very blessed to be in a fine network with very many wonderful people with helpful advice. I feel extremely blessed to have discovered the web page and look forward to so many more enjoyable times reading here. Thanks once again for a lot of things.

  11. I have to voice my admiration for your kind-heartedness in support of men and women who really need guidance on in this content. Your personal commitment to getting the solution along appeared to be exceptionally interesting and has always allowed individuals just like me to arrive at their goals. Your entire helpful information denotes a lot to me and far more to my colleagues. With thanks; from each one of us.

  12. I just want to mention I’m very new to blogging and site-building and truly loved you’re web blog. Almost certainly I’m want to bookmark your website . You certainly have fantastic article content. Regards for sharing your web-site.

  13. I together with my guys happened to be checking the great strategies located on your web blog while then came up with an awful suspicion I never expressed respect to the web site owner for them. All the boys are already so excited to read through them and have in effect unquestionably been tapping into these things. We appreciate you genuinely so thoughtful and also for having this kind of high-quality guides most people are really desirous to be informed on. My personal sincere regret for not expressing appreciation to you earlier.

  14. nike kd 11 says:

    My husband and i got quite peaceful Michael managed to complete his inquiry using the precious recommendations he was given through your web site. It is now and again perplexing just to continually be making a gift of concepts that many people might have been making money from. And now we consider we now have the website owner to give thanks to for that. The specific explanations you made, the simple blog menu, the friendships you can give support to promote – it is everything impressive, and it is aiding our son in addition to our family reason why that topic is interesting, which is very mandatory. Thanks for everything!

  15. I wanted to jot down a remark in order to express gratitude to you for those remarkable concepts you are posting on this site. My time intensive internet search has at the end been compensated with useful ideas to write about with my visitors. I ‘d mention that we readers actually are definitely endowed to be in a fabulous network with very many special individuals with very beneficial basics. I feel pretty privileged to have discovered the website and look forward to some more entertaining minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for all the details.


0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×