Lost In Navinland

The Indian community in Chiang Mai (Thailand) considered speaking about the Partition to be taboo," said Navin Rawanchaikul, a Thai artist with Hindu-Punjabi ancestry. His Indian surname was once Rawal. "My mother was from Gujranwala (Punjab province of Pakistan) and she never talked about the Partition — India-Pakistan or Hindu-Muslim. Later, I learnt that they wanted to leave all the bad memories behind and not associate with that part of their history. But when they started talking, the stories kept coming," he added.

At the India Art Fair, where more than a thousand national and international artists converged over the weekend, Rawanchaikul stood apart from the modern-day hysteria. Present there as an artist (exhibiting two works at Mumbai's Sakshi Gallery stall) and as a speaker, the 42-year-old's works and conversations go back to a certain past and re-acquired identity. "I have a lot of questions about who I am," he said, talking about his life and its influence on his artist. In 2008 and 2011, he held two exhibitions, titled "Places of Rebirth" and "Navinland Cinema" respectively, retracing the ancestral memory and migration of his family and others from the community in Chiang Mai.

"I grew up in a mixed culture - an Indian born in Thailand. As a child, we had a strong Indian culture at home but when I was outside, I found it very troublesome since I wanted to be Thai. This conflict constantly makes me think about the role of identity," said the artist, who works from his twin bases in Japan and Thailand, and has two daughters with his Japanese wife.

Known for dynamism, experimentation and social inclusion in his works, Rawanchaikul's repertoire ranges from installations, performances and comics to billboards and films. His major projects, perhaps, come from what can be seen as artistic movements, through projects such as "Navinland" and "Navin Party", a ubiquitous idea to reunite all the "Navins" across the world. "For 10-15 years, I have been travelling, and each time, categories around identity crop up — about being Thai, Indian or, after marriage, Japanese. I wanted to play with that, with how nationality limits our identity. Navins can be found everywhere," he said.

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