London-based artist Chudamani Clowes won the Griffin Art Prize in 2014. Having just completed her six-month residency, she now has a multidisciplinary solo show at Griffin Gallery exploring immigration, race and diaspora. The title, White City is taken from the area where the gallery is situated, which in turn got its name from the white buildings of the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. Chudamani’s research into the archives at the British Museum revealed that this enormous display of peoples and practices held a personal significance for her. Black-and-white photographs captured elephant troops that had travelled the vast distance from Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to take part: “They’re showing me in these shows 100 years ago,” she says. “They’re my people.”
However, it is news of the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean that dominates Chudamani’s solo show. In two series, Jellyheads and Tentacle paintings, Chudamani’s innovative use of materials draws attention to the perilous journeys being taken by thousands of people fleeing conflict in Africa and the Middle East. Her carnival-like use of bright colours and shimmering materials belies the true horrors playing out in the world’s media. The shiny gold tent in the centre of the exhibition space is made from survival blankets and her brightly coloured paintings and jellyfish costume take on horrific connotations when the significance of these creatures is revealed in Chudamani’s retelling of this ongoing crisis.
Studio went to talk to Chudamani about the human stories that have inspired her and her personal connection with the local area.
Chudamani Clowes: White City
Griffin Gallery, White City, London
28 August – 2 October 2015
Interview by EMILY SPICER
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY