I first met Ayisha Abraham in New York City in 1992 after learning about the powerful series of images she had produced dealing with the history of colonial missionary activity and conversion to Christianity in her grandmother's family in Kerala, India. Soon after we met, Ayisha invited me to her home in Harlem where she had been living and working for the past two years. It was a very busy, active space, cluttered with images in various stages of production—painting, mixed media, video, and writing—all dealing with the pain of history and memory, and the fragmented relationship between past and present.
Since then, I have become very grateful for our long discussions around such themes. Her work, though emerging from a very different set of experiences from my own, has provided a kind of personal lens for me. Searching the array of themes in her art has been like standing in a hall of refracted mirrors, in which the image of my own Canadian history and 'identity' becomes gently (indirectly) reflected back at me.
Ayisha was born in England, raised in India, trained in painting at the Baroda College of Art in Gujarat, and has worked for the last four years in New York City. In May of this year she had her first solo exhibition at the New York Marxist School in Manhattan. The show was entitled The Migration of Memory. In some of her most compelling pieces, she draws from missionary photographs of her grandmother's family, playing them against excerpts from letters and texts, sometimes fracturing the photo itself and at other times expanding it into a painting or mixed media. These family memories gently carve a space where the larger themes of Indian history are figured through intensely personal narrative struggles. Collectively, her work creates neither a nostalgia for the past, nor does it construct a linear historical narrative. Instead the images interplay as fragments, some softer and some more vivid, as subtle as the process of inquiry that is 'remembering' itself.
'Migration' in Ayisha's art, also operates in many senses. As a metaphor for movement, migration marks the distance between shifting physical and emotional sites. As Ayisha has said, such 'journeys' or felt distances have led not to a 'safe' or comfortable location in the US., but rather to an uncertain terrain of exploration. The work exhibited in her solo show represented a variety of moments in such cycles of change. In this spirit, it was a pleasure to learn that her expanding landscape will include a visit to Canada this summer as part of an artists-in-residence program at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta. There she will be working in an interdisciplinary environment with many other artists from Canada and abroad.