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Osheen Siva: Karappu

Preview: Friday 15 March, 6–8 pm

Don’t miss the first UK exhibition by multidisciplinary artist Osheen Siva, entitled Karappu’ (கருப்பு – meaning darkness/black in Tamil). The exhibition includes drawings and paintings, collaborative tapestries crafted with local woman artisans, and the incorporation of leather, laden with political and caste contexts in India.

Originally from Thiruvannamalai in South India, and currently based in Goa, Siva is an acclaimed artist whose practice encompasses painting, drawing, performance and public art. As a digital illustrator they have collaborated with leading global brands including Apple, Gucci, and Meta.

Taking a cue from Afrofuturism, Siva’s work brings together science fiction, mythology, heritage, their love of comic books, and the vibrant, joyful colours of South India to create fantastical characters and dreamscapes, reclaiming and reinventing Indian folktales and myths to imagine a decolonised future.

Siva’s work is rooted in their Dalit and Tamil heritage. Dalit translates as ‘broken, divided, split, shattered’ and Dalits are among India’s most marginalised citizens, condemned to the lowest echelons of society by a rigid caste hierarchy. Karappu – meaning darkness or black in Tamil – carries associations with ‘evil’ in Hindu mythology and is often used in reference to the lower caste and the ‘untouchables’. Siva navigates the complexities of Dalit history, offering a powerful and evocative exploration of identity, resistance, and the quest for a liberated future.

A self-taught illustrator and muralist from Thiruvannamalai, India, Osheen Siva imagines a brave new world of decolonized dreamscapes and narratives of queer power

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Siva’s Dalit Futurism reclaims the word Karappu, seeking to invert and transform the arbitrary structure of caste through a narrative of mutation and hybridity. The beautiful mutant characters serve as a metaphor, challenging assigned social status and established histories with non-binary fluidity, championing bodily autonomy, and highlighting queer and feminine power.

Central to the exhibition is the reclamation and reinvention of Indian mythologies. Siva’s work critiques Hindu scriptures and ancient Sanskrit texts that perpetuate the discrimination of lower-caste individuals. Deliberately countering the lack of positive imagery associated with Dalit communities, Siva creates progressive depictions, envisioning a future that transcends existing stereotypes.

Exploring their heritage in the farming communities of Tamil Nadu, nature is a recurring motif in Siva’s work. Acting as a dual symbol, the natural world conveys fruitfulness and abundance and also highlights the trauma associated with labour and bondage, creating a complex dialogue between nature and social hierarchy.

Images by Osheen Siva, 2024.

Artist website: https://osheensiva.com/
It’s Nice That: https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/osheen-siva-illustration-140721
Hyperallergic: https://hyperallergic.com/810814/coasting-the-topography-of-south-asian-futurisms/