Her series currently includes 23 portraits of queer, trans and gender non-conforming people and women from around the world who trace their roots back to the South Asian subcontinent and whose work covers issues ranging from violence prevention and reproductive rights to environmental justice and educational access.
The paintings were commissioned for Then and Now, the 25th anniversary exhibition of the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia. When Abichandani was approached to expand upon a creative project she was already working on (a sculpture series entitled Angry Ladies) she reached out to friends and the leaders she admired.
Working closely with these feminist activists to solicit suggestions for images and elements of their choosing, Abichandani produced a set of compelling, vibrant and atypical canvasses that highlight these exceptional modern change agents. According to her comments on Instagram, the title of the series refers to Cereus Blooms at Night, “a book by queer Trinidadian author Shani Mootoo who used magic realism to tackle issues of gender based and homophobic violence…The book was way ahead of its time, much like the feminists in this series.”
The reception for Jasmine Blooms At Night has been tremendous, especially from the featured activists themselves. Many have used the images in their own personal branding and to represent themselves on social media and in other online venues. Proliferating these beautiful images of inspirational brown folks is critical in a time when race and gender inequities across every institution are being uncovered (including in the art world).
Abichandani believes that representation alone is not enough to shift the inherently male, overwhelmingly white power dynamic, particularly in the art industry. Beyond simply having a seat at the table, she advocates for marginalized voices to be taken seriously when they make statements about oppression. And raising awareness about the warriors of Jasmine Blooms At Night is absolutely a major part in that necessary conversation.
The artist aims to continue developing the series, and will add at least six more portraits to its ranks ahead of her facilitation of a Brooklyn Art Council panel in May 2019. Later in 2020, she hopes to have anywhere from 60-70 portraits completed in time for a retrospective.
Below, see seven extraordinary multimedia portraits from Jaishri Abichandani’s Jasmine Blooms At Night, with a few details and links to more information about the featured activists:
Thenmozhi Soundararajan: Dalit rights activist, transmedia storyteller, technologist, journalist, and executive director of Equality Labs, a South Asian community technology organization dedicated to ending caste apartheid, Islamophobia, and religious intolerance.
Amita Swadhin: Founder and project director, Mirror Memoirs, an oral history project centering the narratives, healing and leadership of LGBTQ survivors of color in the movement to end child sexual abuse.
Taij Kumarie Moteelall: Program director for Standing In Our Power at Spirit In Action. She is also on the steering committee of Jahajee Sisters, an Indo Caribbean feminist collective that works to combat gender based violence.
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Anjali Misra is a Chicago-based nonprofit professional and freelance writer of media reviews, cultural criticism and short fiction work. She earned her MA in Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she spent nine years as a student and community organizer, focusing on inter-ethnic solidarity, interracial coalition building, and gender justice. She is an avid sci-fi media fan, and Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan is her patronus.