Buttons for Eyes - PhMuseum

Buttons for Eyes

Priya Kambli

2017 - Ongoing

In my work I have always strived to understand the formation and erasure of identity that is an inevitable part of the migrant experience, exploring the resulting fragmentation of family, identity, and culture. In Buttons for Eyes I explore broader cultural debates around migration and identity, particularly as they have been recast in the dramatically changed context of anti-immigrant rhetoric now amplified at the highest levels of government, and which has altered the context in which migrant voices like mine are heard.

Buttons for Eyes:

When I was a child, my inability to ever find anything, even objects right in front of me, lead to my mother’s playful question, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?”. Intended as lighthearted criticism, her question summarized my inability to see, look, observe, find. Buttons for Eyes is my response to her playful yet nuanced question. A question laced with parental fear; if you can’t see, look, observe, find then how will you successfully navigate the world? Now that I am older than my mother was when she said those words, I see the world from my adopted home in the United States, and from within an environment of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric which has altered the context in which migrant voices like mine are heard. Using the photographic lens, I strive to understand the formation and erasure of identity that is an inevitable part of the migrant experience by providing a much-needed personal perspective on the resulting fragmentation of family, identity, and culture.

Despite these weighty issues, there is playfulness embedded in the very title Buttons for Eyes. I am imagining what we might see with our button eyes; suggesting that seeing clearly calls for seeing the world in more unusual ways. Play occurs in this work in my use of both color and natural light. These are materials to manipulate; split into sparks, smear into rainbows, and find shimmering back from the depths of powdered pigments. In this series my concern for the past that is lost to me is apparent, but so is my concern for the future and the losses that will come. And although this work mythologizes the past and present it also plays games with them. It winks, pokes and inverts - suggesting joyousness - mixed with the loss and regret that accompanies us all.

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