Interview: At Art Dubai, Indian origin artist Hajra Waheed unveils the second chapter of her ongoing novel-like work based on the issue of migration.

Hajra Waheed was born to Indian parents in Canada. The artist grew up in Canada and in Saudi Arabia. Educational pursuits took her to the U.S. and then back to Canada. This diversity can perhaps explain how Hajra’s art eschews regional trappings so well.

The artist is exhibiting at the eighth edition of Art Dubai, a significant platform for the visual arts from the West Asia, North Africa and South Asia regions. Hajra is being presented by Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery.

“I think having been raised in different places has enabled me to look at various aspects of myself,” says Hajra, who had her first solo in India last year where she showed different pieces from the same body of work.

Because she finds it problematic to situate an art work in a particular region, her work ends up having a universal resonance. “I don’t look at myself coming from a particular region. If I did then the narrative would have been very channelled,” she says.

Describing the “Sea Change” series as a long novel which will unfold over the years, the young artist says the India show was an introduction of the narrative. The plot deals with people who disappear during their journeys, and at Art Dubai, Hajra’s series “Sea Change Character 1: In The Rough” becomes a little specific in introducing one out of nine characters who go missing.

Based on the real account of disappearance of a large group of people travelling by sea, Hajra does a take on migration and issues around it. Her vivid experiences of, particularly, living in the Saudi Arabian oil compound with many restrictions owing to gender and nationality, inform her art practice.

So, “Returned” is a set of 24 works on paper, which with collaged photographs of rocks, landscapes, accompanied by some text, qualify to be called minimalistic.

“Co-ordinates” is a set of steel slide viewers — handcrafted wooden boxes — inside which can be seen an image (found film, cut and reassembled) of a landscape.

The material she uses helps her in elaborating the narrative. Found objects, aged paper, gifted things often make it to her work (like the family photographs gifted to her by a friend that were used in “Entranik Anouchian Passport Drawing”, portraits of men and women, now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York).

“I notice that the materials that have existing history have a much more mature way of working,” says the artist, who is also doing what she describes as a live installation at the venue. “It is like a floating lantern which comes alive. I collaborate with a shadow puppeteer and we interact with shadow and light,” explains Hajra, who will be performing on a boat floating in the water body at hotel Madinat Jumeirah, the venue of Art Dubai.

Indian presence at Art Dubai

Bangalore-based artist Anup Mathew Thomas has won the Abraaj Group Art Prize along with four other artists from different countries.

The commissioned work, “Nurses”, a set of photographs of nurses, is also on display at the venue.

Sunoj D, another Bangalore-based artist, and Mumbai-based art collective Clark House Initiative are part of Art Dubai Projects.

Then there are Indian galleries like GallerySKE, Experimenter, Chatterjee and Lal, Jhaveri Contemporary, etc, which have booths at the fair.