Art Files: Rajkamal Kahlon

Birthplace: Auburn, California (1974)
Medium: Painting (with experiments in performance and mixed media)
Alma Mater: University of California @ Davis and California College of Arts & Crafts

Relevant Themes: Colonialism, torture, the racial grotesque, space/place

I had the pleasure of listening to Rajkamal Kahlon lecture tonight at California College of the Arts on “Double Consciousness: Painting and Performing the Racial Grotesque”. The title alone drew me into her work (and superficially, her fly dress). Unfortunately, I can’t locate images of my favorite paintings that she incorporated in her slideshow but I’ll keep looking. It would be impossible to summarize her evolution as an artist simply because she has such a rich, diverse and dynamic portfolio that includes working briefly with Kara Walker, participating in the Whitney Independent Study Program, and exhibiting everywhere from New York to Berlin. And while the majority of her works have been inspired by written text(s), she has experimented with numerous mediums at varying scales (everything from 25 ft installations to slightly avant garde performance art). I related mostly to her process as an artist who privileges intuition and spontaneity while maintaining an intellectualism that is often compromised at these lectures (I know, we’re used to pretension overdose). Here is CCA’s brief characterization of her body of work that talks specifically about her previous projects:

“The Brooklyn-based painter Rajkamal Kahlon investigates racial and colonial authority by engaging with historical texts, for example the massive, 1200-page Cassell’s Illustrated History of India, an ethnography published in 1875. She often actually tears out pages and paints over them, using violent, clashing colors to create images of the human body turned grotesque through traumatic encounters with colonialism, military rule, and torture. Her work has been shown in museums and galleries around the world, including the Oakland Museum of California; arttransponder, Berlin; and in New York at the Queens Museum of Art, White Box, and ApexArt. She earned her MFA from CCA.”

Here is a series of her compelling re-workings of Cassell’s Illustrated History of India (which she bought off ebay for $400). She hopes to one day publish her re-make of the text as an alternative reading of History (with a capital “H”). It would be a nice period to a long sentence, she said. Each work is acrylic on 1 of the 1200 book pages.

Algebra of Infinite Justice (72 x 95 in)

It All Started with Someone’s Lie (30 x 21 in)

Bound/Unbound (29 x 40 in)

Give ‘Em the Old Razzle-Dazzle (72 x 96 in)

Kahlon exhibited these pieces along with several others back in 2005 at Penny Pilkington and Wendy Olsoff Gallery (P.P.O.W.) presently located in Chelsea, NYC. After taking a break from satire and irony, Kahlon moved towards producing spontaneous, impulsive works that exposed the conflict between the “good, bad and ugly”. She became fascinated with the tension between the grotesque and the beautiful. Like all my favorite artists, she is interested in unearthing otherwise buried parallels between places, people, moments (etc) that seem disparate and unrelated at first (Austria and torture at Abu Ghraib) but are in fact interconnected. I hope you will continue to research her work and keep an eye out…I only wish I knew about her earlier. For more on Kahlon, check out this interview and peep more of her art.

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