By Robin Sukhadia | www.tablapusher.com
Hip Hop, graffiti, break dancing and ciphering are all artforms that highlight the struggles and triumphs of humanity on the streets. “Hip Hop goes beyond graffiti, break dancing and DJing…it’s a revolutionary movement because it brings people together across religions, caste and socio economic levels,” says Nisha K. Sembi, whose work was the focus of ‘Word to Your Motherland’ (http://wordtoyourmotherland.com/), held at the Betti Ono Gallery in Oakland California from July thru August 2012.
Artist Nisha K. Sembi at the Word to the Motherland exhibition | Photo by Robin Sukhadia
The brilliant and expansive multi media exhibition featured a wide range of Sembi’s graffiti, collaborative and visual work. Sembi draws upon a deep reverence for and skill in graffiti, silk screening and painting to re-contextualize traditional portrayals of south Asian icons, typography, and Bollywood pop culture. Symbolic elements of hip hop combine with bright colors and textures in her tender but very real critiques of society, gender roles and access.
“I see people coming together across caste, generations, and religious identity by participating in Hip Hop, as ciphers, artists and as breakdancers. It is inspiring to see that Hip Hop can be used as a tool for social change.”
Some of the artwork in the show was created by her uncle, Iqvinder Singh, who continues to be a major influence on Sembi’s work. “I really credit him in helping me be the artist I am today because he was the first and only Indian graffiti writer that I had to look up to.” The ‘HERO KARMA’ mural that served as a backdrop to the performances for the night was their first collaborative project together.
Hero Karma Photography by Odell Hussey
Fresh off the heels of the Occupy Oakland protests, Oakland has found refuge in the arts and music in particular. It was therefore fitting that Sembi’s exhibition was prominently featured as part of Art Murmur, Oakland’s vibrant First Friday Art Walk. In addition to her visual work, ‘Word to Your Motherland’ featured live Hip Hop and South Asian percussion performances curated by visionary MC Mandeep Sethi.
Sethi’s work developing Slumgods, a Hip Hop center in the slums of New Delhi, feeds his creative and lyrical approach and his curation of the musical talent for ‘Word to Your Motherland’. His photography and films, which document the Hip Hop movement in India, were also included in the exhibit.
“To be a Hip Hop artist, to make beats, to communicate, to rap, all you need is your body and mind. No other resources are required. Hip Hop is free form expression, allowing you to speak your mind as you process what is happening around you. It is always a reflection of the society around it…if people are being oppressed, marginalized, then the frequencies you hear in Hip Hop is a reflection of that.”
The final closing night musical performances for ‘Word to Your Motherland’ featured Mandeep Sethi on vocals, vocalist Ishmeet Narula, myself (Tablapusher) on tabla and MPC1000, Ajit Singh on dhol, DJ Delrokz (Mighty Zulu) and DJ Rav-E. Earlier performances for the exhibition included DJ Smokestack, Hoodini, and Baagi.
Robin Sukhadia/Tablapusher with Mandeep Sethi on the mic. Photo by Rachana Sukhadia
Learn more about Nisha K. Sembi at www.kalakaricollective.com
Robin Sukhadia: http://tablapusher.com/