Jasleen Kaur talks about her identity as a Scottish-Indian artist, the secrets of everyday objects, and why the most interesting stories are often those we don’t hear about.
What does belonging mean to you?
I was born in Glasgow and brought up by Indian parents, so as a child I identified with two very different cultures. I had a traditional Sikh upbringing at home, but was raised in a predominantly white suburb of Glasgow where I was, almost, fully part of ‘Western society’.
In 1950, three years after the partition of India and Pakistan, my great-granddad moved from Punjab to Glasgow. Thanks to him, and the others who came before me, I feel like I’ve had an easier time being allowed to occupy the space that I do. I see myself as being somewhere in-between British, Indian, British-Asian, Glaswegian, Punjabi and something else entirely new. These multiple identities provide me with a richness that I often draw upon in my work.
Everybody has a different idea of the point at which somewhere, once foreign to them, becomes home. My gran on my mother’s side said that although she’d had children in India it was only when she gave birth in Britain that she felt she could call it home, as her child was a British citizen.
Why do you work with everyday objects?
Objects tell stories most historians would never write. My work is about the malleability of culture and the continual adaptations and subtle changes in peoples behaviour and traditions. I think everyday objects and matter that often go unnoticed can act as visual signifiers and commentaries on our social and cultural histories.
I started to use found objects for really practical reasons. The most effective and rapid way to make something was to utilise things from my immediate environment. I started to find things, hack them up and put them together in new ways – I called this process ‘bodging’. I want to re-appropriate and subvert things to give them new meanings — make things for how we actually do things, not for how we should be doing them. These hybrid objects can be comical, crude, poetic and they seem to speak for themselves. For example, I made a pair of shoes for my father from brown leather brogues, spliced with flip-flop sandals. He’s a proper business man who dresses ‘improperly’ and I wanted to reflect this in something as basic as a shoe.
Make do and mend is having a resurgence at the moment, and maker spaces, hack-spaces and repair events – places where like-minded makers can work together and directly with the public – are popping up across the UK. Various events, including the Migration Lab, are encouraging people to think, discuss and make new solutions, rather than just consume things, including information, and throw them away.
How has your family and personal history influenced your work?
My dad has got quite a makeshift way of fixing things, or bodging them, as I call it. I remember one night he was painting the top edge of the ceiling, but couldn’t prop up a ladder, as there was a stairwell in the way. Despite owning a hardware shop, Hardy’s Hardware – an Anglicisation of his name, Hardeep – he decided to give DIY a whole new meaning, by using masking tape to stick together an upside-down feather duster, a long plant cane and a paintbrush. A perfectly good tool for the job.