Ashwini Bhat

@ashwinibhat | website

“The marginalization of women and the destruction of biodiversity go hand in hand”

-Vandana Shiva

I come from a small agricultural community and a matriarchal family on the southwest coast of India. I grew up knowing the edible and medicinal plants in my garden. When I finally decided to set my roots in California—where, as in South India, I could grow fruits and vegetables for most of the year—I took it as my responsibility to learn to name the plants and trees around me. As a new immigrant to California, deeply touched by its diverse and fragile natural environments, I found myself and my studio practice drawn to the drama of this region’s topographies. Combining my fascination with California with my fascination with south-Asian iconography, pre-Aryan ritual practices, and contemporary international environmental movements, I create sculptures that engage viewers in a dialogue about ecology, biodiversity, and multiculturalism.

The writing of environmental activist and ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva, who like the citizens of Mendocino County, has resisted monocultures and GMO’s, serves as a kind of conceptual undercurrent for this new work, Earth Rising, Women Rising (Matrilineal Self-portrait series).  I’m borrowing the title from the mission statement of Shiva’s environmental organization, Navdanya (Nine Seeds), which has conserved over 740 varieties of rice.

My sculpture is influenced by ceremonial hanging bronze temple lamps. While they are traditionally decorative and pretty, I re-contextualize them in a work that addresses complex concerns regarding creativity, regeneration, nature, and women. As I try to practice art in a world in which women remain economically and politically disadvantaged, in which I witness the snowballing worldwide frequency of anti-immigration rhetoric, nativism, and denials of climate change, I want to honor the positivity of Shiva’s work to celebrate diversities of seeds, of lives, and of forms of knowledge.