Erasing Borders: Passport to Contemporary Indian Art  Feb-June 2008

Shelly Bahl

Shelly Bahl Shelly Bahl

Within my art practice I have been exploring the history and exotification of Indian art and culture, and much of my work plays with and questions the practices of Orientalism, kitsch appropriation and the mass-production of culturally-specific iconography.

The narratives in my mixed-media works play with issues of cultural dislocation and the cultural schizophrenia that can occur in the translation/ transmutation of time and space. I am specifically interested in the contemporary transmission of visual culture, and the experiences of individuals who lead trans-cultural lives.


Shelly Bahl is a visual and media artist based in Toronto and New York City. She received her B.F.A. (Visual Art and Art History) from York University, Toronto and her M.A. (Studio Art) from New York University. Her interdisciplinary work in drawing, painting, sculpture/ installation, photography and video, has appeared in a number of solo and group exhibitions in North America and internationally over the past 12 years.

Her recent and upcoming projects include group exhibitions at Rush Arts Gallery, NYC; Mattress Factory Museum, Pittsburg; Modern Fuel Gallery, Kingston; Jersey City Museum, NJ; Jamaica Center For Arts and Learning, NYC: and the Experimental Art Gallery/ Habitat Centre, Delhi. Over the past few years solo exhibitions have also been held at LEE Ka-sing Gallery, Toronto; Gallery 198, London, UK; Richmond Art Gallery, Vancouver; Gallery 44, Toronto; M.Y. Art Prospects, New York City; and Khyber Centre For the Arts, Halifax, NS.

In Spring 2004, she completed a six-month studio residency program at the Artists Alliance in New York City. Past artist residencies were held at The Banff Centre For the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and the Sanskriti Kendra Foundation Centre in Delhi, India.

Her artwork has received significant critical attention, and has most recently been reviewed in NOW Magazine, National Post, Hamilton Spectator, Asian Art News, World Sculpture News, Art India, Vancouver Sun, ART AsiaPacific, New Art Examiner and FUSE Magazine.

Bahl is a founding artist member of SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Collective) and ZEN-MIX 2000: Pan-Asian Visual Arts Network in Toronto. She has also received a number of visual art production grants and fellowships, for independent projects and artistic collaborations.

She has also worked with a number of arts organizations as an Educator, Curator and Arts Programmer. Recently, she has taught studio art courses at Alfred University, The Pratt Institute, Vermont College and the Ontario College of Art and Design. Currently she is a Lecturer in the Visual and Performing Arts Program at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

Her artwork can be viewed at:


Pink is the Navy Blue of India (2003)
This is a 3-part project consisting of a mixed-media video installation, a series of 20 digital prints, and a drawing installation.

This project is inspired by a quote from fashion guru, Diane Vreeland (Vogue magazine). I have been observing the current public fascination with 'Indian/ Bollywood Chic' and have developed a group of works that are humorous and satirical critiques of the phenomena. I have been sifting through materials from the world of fashion and popular culture, which glorify ethnic consumerism/ consumption, and am creating strange and surreal stories.

The mixed-media video installation of "Pink is the Navy Blue of India" transforms gallery spaces into faux fashion boutique environments where the visitor may engage in a narrative of 'cultural cannibalism'. The installation utilizes garments on clothing racks, a mannequin, mirror, a seating area, and a large video projection. The video follows a woman in a desperate act of madness and consumption within a clothing shop. Part of the performance involves her trying on, playing with and licking the 'exotic' garments on display.

A Room With a View, III (2003)
Mixed-media installation

"A Room With a View, III", is a continuation of the installations/ interventions that I developed for the Migrations North/ South Project in Chile in February 2002. Recently, I have been creating faux-domestic spaces that become stages for interactive acts of consumption and storytelling. These sites offer playful and surreal stories of 'cultural cannibalism', that refer to old and new forms of colonialism, orientalism, and cultural appropriation.

For this installation, I have researched European colonial architecture and interior design, and have created a small Neo-Victorian salon/ gallery with a series of photographic prints. The photographs are architectural details of sites of past colonial grandeur, which are now in various stages of decay. The faux-antique wallpapers, furnishings and photographs are all contemporary re-appropriations of colonial nostalgia.

"A Day In the Life (2007)
A series of 8 digital photographs

I am interested in the symbolism of the airport as a place of metamorphosis. This series of photographs are surreal explorations of the desire for personal transformation, contrasted with the realities of mass tourism, immigration and border controls. This project also explores the workings of the airport microcosm, and the many invisible people within this world who keep things moving.

The photographs are set in an airport restroom and lounge, and feature a group of women of South Asian descent (a cleaner, security officer, flight attendant, businesswoman, and a holiday traveler with a baby). The surreal narrative emerges through the interactions of these individuals from different walks of life, within this isolated environment.


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