Harrison Center artist Quincy Owens is inspired.
Owens, who resigned from his Herron High School art teacher job of 6 years, to become a full-time artist 18 months ago, recently visited New Delhi, India. He traveled there to attend a whirlwind three-week artists' residency.
- During his artist residency in New Delhi, India, Indianapolis artist Quincy Owens visited the Taj Mahal, which was built by an emperor in memory of his wife. Owens said he was amazed by the contradiction between the reason for the construction of the landmark and the way women are mistreated in the country.
Aimed at pushing for social change regarding gender injustice in the country, the group residency through the Art for Change Foundation held a public protest and an art show, among other activities in line with the mission. It also inspired Owens, who only had two weeks' notice to plan the trip, to reimagine his own contemporary artwork.
Over coffee at Calvin Fletcher's Coffee Co. in Fountain Square a few days after he returned, Owens talked about the trip and how it impacted the pieces he is working on now.
What was the residency about?
Quincy: It had a set theme: gender injustice and reconciliation. There was a rape and murder of a woman (in New Delhi) that made international news last year. (A 23-year-old intern was gang raped and beaten on a bus.)
What did you learn about gender roles in New Delhi?
Quincy: Women are stared at and through by men and men will surround women on packed buses and grope and fondle them. I had no clue. So many men are out in public and still, culturally, women stay home. The amount of women out in public is so much less that they just, at any given minute, could easily be overpowered by any group of men.
The whole idea, visually, that I couldn't wrap my head around is how men could treat something as beautiful as how women carried themselves in that society the way they do.
- Owens painted a graffiti-like message in Hindi that reads “Change is a participatory sport.”
How did you express that through your art?
Quincy: I actually went shopping for saris (colorful, traditional dress for Indian women) to find patterns. So all of my paintings are based on patterns that I found in the saris and men's handprints are in the paintings ... I came up with the idea of the hands interlaced with patterns and found some of the old traditional (sari) patterns and also some modern, contemporary patterns. I needed to find some symbol for hope -- that, or recognition that it wouldn't always be like that.
What are those hopeful symbols in the art?
Quincy: I thought of the color gold, which is easy ... I found a family that does just immaculate embroidery work, all by hand, bead by bead. I asked them if they would embroider the paisley shape, which originated in India ... It's derived from the form of a baby mango. Symbolically, I used it as a representation of new growth.
Note: He also painted on two of the three pieces a graffiti-like message in Hindi, the official language of northern India. It reads "Change is a participatory sport."
- Owens created three paintings while he was in India. Each included patterns from Indian women's saris and shapes of men's hands on them to symbolically depict the way women are groped on buses against their will in New Delhi.
How did the art show go?
Quincy: It was a two-day exhibition, and one day the art was part of a protest space at the public area, JantarMantar. There was also a performance artist who called himself "Bindi Man." He covered himself in dots (or bindis, which are the decorative symbols usually worn by women on their foreheads, spaced between their eyes). He was walking around with postcards, passing them out to men, asking them to write how they will change the way they treat women, requesting they pen their mailing address on the side and then putting a bindi on each postcard, as if to seal the deal. He mailed the postcards back to the men to remind them of what they had written.
Where are the paintings you created?
Quincy: Over there. If the paintings sell, I'll get part of the proceeds and so does the gallery that is showing them and the Art for Change project. If they don't sell eventually, it sounds like they will come back my way.
How has the experience affected you?
Quincy: I guess the big thing I'm still wrestling with is how small our problems are compared to their big problems there ... I've gotten the worst sleep, in a good way, since I got back. I totally see the world differently.
- Owens is now working on a new show inspired from his experience set to open at the Harrison Center in March.
How will you use the experience in the future?
Quincy: It just so happened that I got back ... and I got a call from Rowland Design saying, 'we have six bolts of orange velvet, would you want it?' I said yes. So, I started doing research to see if I could actually paint on it and found out that painting on velvet didn't start with Elvis. It started in Kashmir.
I saw and experienced so much, all I can think about now is spewing it all on the velvet with color...I already talked to the Harrison Center about doing a show.
What's your next step?
Quincy: The next thing on the horizon is my family. We're all set to go to Europe in the spring next year, because I was a Creative Renewal Arts Fellow.
I'm not a door closer. Doors have been totally opened, and I have looked into opening more doors. We'll see where it goes.
- The Art for Change Foundation, aimed at pushing for social change around gender injustice in India, organized a group artist residency.