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Arts & Culture

Tania De Rozario: “Writing was a means of giving language and structure to very difficult, amorphous feelings.”

When creative work across mediums feeds off each other.

Words by
Dawn
Location
Singapore

Thinking about creatives who make great impact with their work, Tania De Rozario and Priyageetha Dia immediately came to mind. They transform lived experiences and harsh truths into empowering expressions of art; occupying space and reclaiming the diversity and legitimacy of narratives beyond the majority and socially sanctioned.

Originally meant as a joint feature, I have decided to feature them individually to preserve the fullness of their words and let them each have your full attention. They deserve no less.

From creating visuals with paints or words, Tania De Rozario is no stranger to those realms of creation and expression. Regardless of medium, she never fails to express subtlety and details in the bigger picture. Every encounter with her work has been one of discovery and recovering another piece of the self.

Tania speaks to B-Side about her practice as a creative, lived spaces and one of Priyageetha’s work that she loves.

Erase Night from Day_ Oil On Canvas
Erase Night From Day (Oil on Canvas)

Your work spans across visual art and written word in its various capacities. Do you feel a need to label yourself as a visual artist or writer, or are you comfortable being identified as a multi-hyphenated creative?

My different creative work feeds off each other, so saying that I am both (rather than either) is not just what I am comfortable with–it is the more accurate description of my practice. Even in the early 2000s, when I was working solely in the visual arts, a lot of my painting and drawing used poetry and memoir as a departure point. Also, a lot of my installation work used text as a medium. And when I started working as a freelance writer, most of the writing I did for magazines and institutions was related to art. Even today, a lot of my poetry is influenced by visual art … not to mention the fact that poetry itself often concerns itself with images and the power they contain. I also recently published my first comic, and as you know, with comics, words and images work hand in hand.

Do you think art can ever be non-political in nature?

I don’t think any sort of cultural production or creative output can ever be non-personal or non-political. What an artist chooses to focus their attention on, what they choose to ignore, what resources they have (or don’t have) at their fingertips, the time and space they are able to lavish on their practice: all these things cannot be divorced from the structures and politics they are embedded in. And once the work is done, one also has to ask: what creative platforms are made available to this artist, for their work? What personal, professional, familial or academic networks are available to the artist and what frameworks of privilege enable those networks? What cultural norms/biases render the content of the work “un/acceptable” to the “general public”, hampering its ability to be published, screened, exhibited or performed? Even the most “a-political” art (by whatever standard) is political in nature, once it exists in its own right, in the public sphere. Denying the politics embedded in one’s own work is also a political stance.

Photo Courtesy Of Books Actually
Credit: BooksActually

More specifically to your work And The Walls Come Crumbling Down, how has your artistic expression between visual and text influenced one another?

And The Walls Come Crumbling Down came out of grieving—grieving a broken relationship, a mother who did not love me, a country and culture that perceives me as deviant for being queer. Because there was a lot to process, the book took several years to complete, with lots of gaps in between each bout of writing. Those gaps were often filled by bouts of painting and drawing. A lot of the images I created at the time were of people I’d been in romantic relationships with, and the spaces we’d inhabited together, so this art-making was also a type of grieving, of coming to terms. The more I got into this write-paint-draw cycle, the more I understood that writing and image-making each had a different role in helping me process the story. Writing was a means of giving language and structure to very difficult, amorphous feelings. Painting allowed me to let go of that conscious mental processing, which helped me make connections and generate new ideas. Because I’d be staring at the same image for hours at a time, I think the visual part of my brain took over. This allowed the “writing” part of my brain to rest, and to make the subconscious connections it needed to make.

Books by Tania De Rozario from Math Paper Press
Books by Tania De Rozario from Math Paper Press

The book dives into lived spaces—how people influence them, how they affect us. With most people cooped in within the same four walls regardless of safety or choice, because of the pandemic, how would the relationship between people and space shift? Can people free themselves within these physical confines?

It’s important to acknowledge that when it comes to home-isolation, there is no one way that everybody is experiencing this. If there is one thing that is happening across the board, it is the fact that this virus is magnifying inequality, and groups which were already vulnerable before this pandemic occurred have been made even more vulnerable now.

In Singapore, this can be seen very clearly in the disproportionate surge of infections seen in migrant worker dorms. Also, it is no surprise that queer kids around the world who have no choice but to stay at home with bigoted parents, are experiencing heightened levels of abuse.

Also, in Vancouver, where I currently live, there is a large population of people who face homelessness. How do you stay at home when you don’t have one? Where do you isolate? More generally, there is a huge disparity between people who have the resources to isolate, and people for whom home-isolation means a loss of income and stability.

There is a huge sliding scale of experiences occurring right now and the mechanics of this sliding scale were already in place before countries started shutting down. I’m not sure what is meant by “freeing ourselves within these physical confines” because I don’t believe that the confinement we are experiencing now is the root of the problems we are seeing. The root of these problems is the structural issues that make access to a safe home not a given for so many people. The problem is that some people are “freer” than others.

ProfilePhoto_Landscape

Clothes, like Breadcrumbs_Oil On Canvasjpg
Clothes, Like Breadcrumbs (Oil on Canvas)

What are three things you do to make any space, be it public or private, yours?

In terms of private space, so long as I have my laptop, sketchbook and desk to work at, that space feels like mine. Because my life revolves around my creative work, those are really the main things I need.

As for public space, I would like to give a straightforward answer and say that on public transport, I listen to music to maintain a private experience of that public space (which I do). However, my experience is that there is a limit to which I am able to think of public space as “mine”. Public space is never truly equally shared.

I mean, think about it. Are you gay? If so, holding hands with your partner in public can result in harassment or violence. So can simply existing in public space as a transwoman. In the US, two black men got the police called on them for just sitting at Starbucks. In Vancouver right now, East Asian people are experiencing increasing levels of violence. Also, I’m pretty sure that a woman walking to her car late at night experiences that walk differently from a man. And don’t get me started on street harassment.

As a queer person, brown person, and as a woman, I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of the message that public space is not space I’m allowed to exist in equally. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even when I have those headphones on, my guard is never down.

4. Golden Staircase, 2017
Golden Staircase by Priyageetha Dia (2017). Credit: Priyageetha Dia

If you don’t mind, can you share one work of Priyageetha’s that really stood out to you and how it made you feel, especially as a creative yourself?

I really loved her golden staircase. Even without context, it was a beautiful, thoughtful spatial intervention all on its own. But when I learned that the artist lived in that block and that her family history included her forefathers being goldsmiths, the work became additionally meaningful for me. When we draw family trees, we tend to use vertical lines to link one generation to another. A staircase, like those little lines, connects one floor to another, creating a physical link between them.

Read about Priyageetha Dia here.

Photography and works featured are all courtesy of Tania De Rozario, unless stated otherwise.

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