HCwBB Presents: Sancintya Mohini Simpson

HCwBB Presents: Sancintya Mohini Simpson

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HCwBB Presents is a new, monthly feature that aims to provide us with more information about the women who inspire us and their work. Each long form piece will focus on one woman and her career within her chosen field. It will not only showcase the existing work of the individual, but also delve further into their methods, mediums, and motives.

This month, we’re in conversation with Sancintya Mohini Simpson.

Artist Bio

Sancintya-Simpson_-Self-II_Syncretism
Portrait of the artist from the series Syncretism (mixed media on pigment print, 70 x 70cm, 2011)

Sancintya is an artist, writer and researcher who examines the complexities of racial, migratory and mixed-race experience within Australia. Her practice is informed by her heritage as a biracial First-Generation Australian of Indian-Anglo descent. To create dialogue on society’s concealed prejudices, her practice intertwines painting, photography, video, and performance. The two main aspects of her practice are her use of traditional mediums mixed with digital platforms and her radical alter-ego CHICHI MA$ALA. She has a Bachelor of Photography with Honours from Queensland College of Art, Griffith University (2014).

Emma Kate Lewis: What motivates your work?

Sancintya Mohini Simpson: My mother, and all the women in my family before me who didn’t have the opportunities that I do today: to have our voices and stories heard, and our histories represented. All the women in my life whose shared experiences and battles, as women of colour living in Australia, inspire and drive me to create and share.

Relative

(archival pigment print with ink, looped sound, 2015)

Relative_Install

EKL: What do the themes explored within your work mean to you?

SMS: My practice explores my family’s and friend’s personal experiences of racism and prejudice in Australia. Growing up in Brisbane, I experienced a lot of racism and prejudice in school, as did my brothers. This had both obvious and subtle influences on my life. Art has helped me understand and share these stories, as well as understand others’ experiences.

For me, art is a way to create community and dialogue, address important issues, and acknowledge histories.

RelativeSmall
From Relative

My family, on my mother’s side, were indentured labourers taken from India to South Africa. The history and experiences of these women in particular were extremely difficult.

The women in my family line never had any opportunity to speak for themselves; for me to be able to study something so privileged as art therefore means I make art for them, to use my voice and platform to share stories that need and deserve to be acknowledged.

My cultural identity is so central in my life that I can’t escape it. The reason I explore it in my work is because there’s a lack of understanding of the experiences of mixed-race people, as well as of migrant experiences and of the general stereotyping of people of colour, so it was a natural response to address this in my work.

Oriental Women

(archival pigment print, watercolour, liquid gold, 2016)

EKL: Tell me a bit about your process as an artist and your preferred mediums.

SMS: My personal process involves spending a lot of time thinking about, and developing, core concepts. Sometimes this happens naturally through talking to people with similar experiences, thinking about my family history, and reading/researching in the area.

From there I develop a clear idea of what I want to make my work about, then I spend some time evaluating the most effective form to communicate my concept. This approach is heavily centred on telling and sharing of personal narrative, so I have to be sure of the best way to represent and create dialogue. I often work with other people to create my work, in particular other women of colour or family, so it’s important for me to involve them in the process. Which takes time, but is more respectful and rewarding.

HANDS_web
From Nārītva

Once I have a sense of the form I want to use to communicate I begin experimenting. Early on this sometimes involves learning new skills to produce the work. Examples include going to India to learn Indian Miniature painting, taking video editing classes, working with others to learn to rap and produce music videos – extremely challenging and confronting ventures, but to me the end form is important.

I believe there’s no point just creating a photograph or painting or sticking to one medium if it limits how I can communicate or connect with the concept.

For me the form, whether it be performance, photography, video, painting, or a combination of different mediums is connected intrinsically with the concept I am trying to communicate.

KAPRA_web
From Nārītva

My medium is whatever is the best form to communicate my concept. Working with other women, sometimes it’s something they could connect with. Otherwise, the form is connected to the concept; recreating something in a modern way. Or taking back self-representation from a medium that’s inherently about catering to the gaze of the viewer. My use of mediums is about what is most appropriate to convey my concept. I use layering a lot: painting on photographs, painting in video, layering sound/distorting in video, and mixing music and sampled sounds live in performance. Mixing traditional with modern techniques and forms.

This use of layering is how I look at the complexities of the issues I address. The many branches, layers of meaning, experience – in all it’s because identity is complex and not black and white. So although my use mediums are varied, the connection in how I use it is similar to me.

EKL: What was it like working with your mother the first time you produced work involving her? Has your relationship changed since then? Can you recall any key moments throughout the process of creating Blood-link and Mother and I that were particularly poignant to you?

SMS: Mother and I came from an intense time of understanding my mother’s story, and how this was affected by her own mother and, in general, by our matrilineal heritage. I’d been working with my mother, and on this topic for a period, and even went and did a residency in Jaipur to learn how to paint in order to produce the work.

Mother and I

(archival pigment print, gouache, watercolour and liquid gold, 2012 – 2014)

The work contains a complexity of ideas, some obvious, and others subtle.

It looks at the influence of cultural inheritance, stories of women – contradictory, powerful, sad – and how this could be viewed against expectations of women.

These goddesses and women from religious Hindu stories impacted ideas of how women should be, as mothers, daughters and wives, but similarly cast them as pillars of strength or piety. I took the photographs with my mother in South India, while travelling around trying to find the places where our matrilineal ancestors came from – a loss of connection due to our family history of indentured labour.

Photo by Carl Warner
Photograph of Mother and I by Carl Warner

I wanted to show that you can be connected to a place, just generationally, by having all these influences passed down from woman to woman. Even as outsiders, we were still connected.

So the work is about an experience with my mother; a healing, a grieving, a release, an understanding. It’s about the cultural expectation of Indian women: it is our duty to marry, have children, to sacrifice and carry a burden, but our identities are much more complex. For me, the work is layered with such personal meaning, but from an audience’s perspective there are many stories.

Blood-link

(looped, stop animation, 2013)

I watch,
My Mother.

She carries a heavy weight.
She received it from her Mother,
And shares it with me.

She is kind.
She is caring.
She does her duty too.

My Mother, just like her Mother,
And her Mother too, all share
Something more, than blood,
They share it with me too.

EKL: Can you tell me about CHICHI MA$ALA? When did you decide to develop that alter-ego and why? What’s your favourite thing about being her?

SMS: My research behind that project is motivated from my own experiences, and those of many other women in my life, of racism especially in regards to the sexualisation, fetishisation and removal of agency. Often as backhanded complements insulting out families or backgrounds.

CHICHI MA$ALA – Mixed Girl Militia

(HD music video, 3.24 mins, 2014)

The work is also relevant in context to how little dialog occurs regarding the overt, and sometime insidiously subtle, racism experienced by many mixed-race people in Australia.

As these issues are also prevalent in popular culture, it made sense to harness that and construct an alter-ego to critique experiences and regain a voice for others with the same experiences.

I had no previous experience with rapping or music video production, but fortunately I had a lot of people who supported me. The process of collaborating, learning and achieving the final product also created a solidarity and community. With the resurgence of political parties such as One Nation, and as someone who grew up while parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation first gained traction, I can attest to the issues never having disappeared.

Being unable to control how you are represented is a real issue and this work exists to take back control and create dialog about racism in Australia.

MA$ALA MILITIA ft. SEZZO

(performance by CHICHI MA$ALA ft. Sezzo, 2015)

EKL: Can you tell me about the work you’re currently doing for your upcoming project? How similar is it to your earlier work?

SMS: The project continues to explore similar themes exploring familial and personal histories, but I can’t tell you much about it yet, apart from the fact I’m developing it as part of Next Wave’s Kickstart Helix program which will be presented May 2018.

GUAG
Sancintya Mohini Simpson

Answers, Biography, and Images (unless otherwise stated): Sancintya Mohini Simpson

Featured Image: Anna Apuli of Crapuli

Questions, Intro and Edits: Emma Kate Lewis

We’ve already approached several incredible women whose work and stories we can’t wait to share with you over the coming months. If you would like to be considered for a future HCwBB Presents piece, you can apply to be featured by emailing Emma Kate Lewis with links to your existing work and a short artist statement.

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