Most of last 26 years of my artistic life has been spent on abstract imagery. More recently, however, I have been mulling over more figurative concepts—political/social commentary, trying to figure out how it would all come together. The Smithsonian project gave me the opportunity to really explore a theme close to my heart and discover new narrative pathways in my creative process, giving rise to further hybrid ideas.
The imagery in “Goddess Liberty – Ascendent” reflects a coming together of two powerful images, one of freedom and shelter in the Statue of Liberty, the other of wealth and prosperity in the eight-armed Indian goddess, Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. The heroic Statue of Liberty is a modestly dressed beacon of hope and in stark contrast to the voluptuous Lakshmi. The two could not be the products of more dissimilar cultures. This coming together of the two images—one photographic, the other painted—is an uneasy co-existence, much as life is for H-1B visa holders. In this vein, I have made little attempt to smooth over the edges where the two figures come together: the figures are literally butted up together. The eight arms of the composite figure bear temporary “gifts” or “prizes” sought by immigrants clamoring at the gate. Rather than being rooted firmly to the ground, the Goddess floats and seems to hover, ascending, almost, inside an exotic lotus, the traditional seat for Lakshmi.
The immigrants for whom the Statue of Liberty was originally erected were mostly European. Since the second half of the century however, the faces have changed, and the ports of entry are numerous. Work permits and temporary visas like the H-1B have proven to be convenient, particularly since 2000. By virtue of the temporary commitment, the melting pot has morphed into something rather more "collaged".
The H-1B Visa is the most prominent one of all the temporary visas that Indians and other South Asians can apply for. But those “gifts” or “promises” for temporary immigrants, unlike those applying for permanent residence, are illusory in nature, giving a taste, an inkling of the possibilities in such a life. What is fulfilled is the temporary need of skilled workers to offset imbalances in the economy. What is troubling is the rise of a sort of mercenary labor force that will never have the chance to integrate, that may be “welcomed” and tolerated and even, for some time, feel like valuable additions to the economy, but will more often than not look if not feel foreign and at odds with the seamless culture, and when their tenure is over, may turn into permanent nomads.
SANGEETA REDDY was born in 1955, Hyderabad, India, and migrated to the United States in 1978 where she studied art. Currently she maintains studios in Denver, Colorado and Hyderabad, India. She has been represented by various galleries in Aspen, Denver, New York, Santa Fe, New Delhi, Chennai and now, Hyderabad since the beginning of her 30 year career. Her work consists of mixed media abstract expressionistic paintings and monotypes on both canvas and paper. Learn more about Sangeeta's work at www.sangeetareddyart.com.