Jasmine Nilani Joseph: Who Decides the Distance? : The Viewing Room, D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi

3 February - 2 March 2023
Winner of the Asia Society Game Changer Awards India in 2022, Jasmine Nilani Joseph is an emerging artist from Sri Lanka, whose practice includes drawing, hybrid sculptures and animation videos. Joseph is a skilled draughtsman; her mark-making couples a meditative pointillism with an incisive linearity creating charged impressions of space and then juxtaposing them against a quieting neutrality. As in her practice, her thematic oeuvre hinges itself on notions of mobility – how ideas, images and objects travel; how moving images can be depicted; and how movements can be explored as a subset of physical history and shared temporality.
When Joseph was living in Jaffna during her childhood amidst the Sri Lankan Civil War, her parents and siblings were forced out of their home and into the city of Vavuniya, where they lived in a refugee camp and later settled under a housing scheme project. Now with her family still living in Vavuniya, Joseph returns to Jaffna to study the arts where living alone in the city of her ancestors fills her with nostalgia and anxiety, even as yesterday’s distress masks itself as today’s volition. Joseph’s solo movements resound with generational separation, distanced as she is from her family and dream house as well as notions of belongingness and celebration from before the dislocation. These early experiences frame heartfelt and important reflections on how the idea of family develops and sustains through wounding, displacement and distance.
But who decides the distance, she asks? Contemplating the physical and emotional traumas of separation, Joseph’s latest series of drawings considers the inconclusive causes of distance – from arbitrary borders and regional wars to financial, social and economic crises. Visualizing a set of questions broached to her by others – for which the artist admittedly lacks the answers because a response to them creates a kind of stress – Joseph ironically adopts an emotional distance in her positioning of these drawings, relating to questions such as: “What is your hometown?” “Do you celebrate occasions together?” “Do you visit your grandparents?” “How tasty is your homemade food?”
In these drawings, the central black box represents a complex source of darkness from which questions of belonging and security emerge, with ash-colored, concrete tones and brown-colored, soil tones – which represent the multi-perspectives of Jaffna and Vavuniya respectively – creating book-ends to an individualistically plural plot. In the absence of instinctive attachments, Joseph explores architectural constructions as phantom limbs enveloped within symbolic movements or a lack thereof, where the power of memory infuses a sensorial primacy into the relationships we share with our natural and constructed worlds. Joseph extends these historical narratives to the contemporary realities of the younger generation, whom she notes as living in culturally spurred states of detachment and general instability.