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Being South Asian: Harnake Hunspal

Artist Harnake Hunspal discusses her experience being South Asian and the inspiration behind her work. 


One of my favourite quotes about art is by Laurie Anderson : “I think amazingly beautiful and dangerous art can be made with a pencil.”  This was my inspiration when deciding the approach for my drawing ‘Dancer 3’ - far from dangerous, more a celebration of this unique implement … based on photographs I took of classical Indian Bharatanatyam dance students at The Bhavan in West Kensington during 2016.  Although a drawing of photographs, the lines in different directions appear to maintain the sense of movement captured in the stop motion still frames.



I am a filmmaker by career, and a recent artist.  My background in moving image is always present in my artwork, be it photography, paintings or drawings.  Like most people, I have had an experience of being ‘locked in’ during the pandemic, working from home, many more hours than ever before.  One particular film project took up so much time, I literally didn’t step out of the house Monday - Friday for weeks on end.  I was inspired to pick up an old Polaroid camera, originally purchased for location scouting.  Polaroid film was discontinued for a while, so the camera had been sitting in a cupboard for years, but recently the film stock has become available again, so I decided to take snapshots of my WFH world …  instantly capturing the mood of the moment and the story of my own private lockdown life. 

Being South Asian

When I was first asked to collaborate in this exhibition, I found myself delving into my past.  I’m not a nostalgic person and the experience drew up a lot of emotions from memories I hadn’t thought of for a very long time … that with age, now meant so much more in retrospect. 

I shared a contact sheet of my father with the group, of 48 passport photographs taken in one sitting.  In every image the pose is slightly different.  Glancing over the images, they reel into a story … you can imagine him at the studio, chatting with the photographer, reacting to directions, laughing, very much enjoying the experience, as a young man, starting a new life in the UK.  In India, he would have had long hair wrapped in a turban and a beard.  Here, he is clean shaven with a dapper new hair cut and smart suit … new beginnings …

In comparison, the images of my sister appear as different episodes in her life over 30 years.  When Goody died 4 years ago, we found a meticulous collection of passport photographs at her house - still in their original wallets, that span most of her life.  Without knowing Goody, looking across the images, you can picture her life … with curiosity … 

I am so pleased to have my work installed on the first floor landing at Gunnersbury Park Museum - the works feel at home in the magnificent stairway … the very opposite of being ‘locked in’ … they are free to share their stories with the world.

Harnake Hunspal

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