Artist Rajkamal Kahlon returned to Yuba City on Friday for an artist talk and community discussion panel at the gallery of the Sutter Theater Center for the Arts.
After two decades of living in Europe, Kahlon, an artist born in Auburn and partially raised in the Yuba-Sutter area, returned to display her artwork, “And I Still Rise,” and give an artist talk. During her presentation, Kahlon was presented with an award for her contribution as an artist in telling the story of individuals whose histories have been erased.
“I was touched by the entire visit to Yuba City,” said Kahlon. “I was writing this week for different talks and I had referred to myself as a daughter of the region but this award plaque says native daughter and this is deeply touching for me. I was surprised by how people were really engaged in the talk and passionate. I really felt both impressed and humbled by it.”
The event began with a presentation by Kahlon as she described the process of creating her artwork and the meaning behind it. Kahlon’s artwork challenges the ideals of colonialism and commemorates people who lost their lives to it or were portrayed in a different way because of western colonialism. As a symbolic act, Kahlon described how she would cut apart books and doctrines that spread the belief of racial purity and paint portraits on top of them.
“This work embodies the gesture of challenging this form of western knowledge production and anthropology that was central to colonial projects around the world and in the United States,” said Kahlon during her discussion. “And for me it also encompasses the gesture of an angry teeenager who defaces their school books because they don’t like what they’re being asked to learn.”
Kahlon described the time her son was four years old and he came into the studio as she worked on cutting apart a book. He asked her if the reason she was cutting the book was because she didn’t like it. Kahlon responded, “that’s exactly right.”
Kahlon discussed her artwork exhibit displayed in the Sacramento State University Library Gallery as well as the artwork displayed in the Sutter Theater Center for the Arts. After the artist talk, Kahlon was given an award by Karm Bains, Sutter County District 4 supervisor, on behalf of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors for her contributing artwork, especially among those who lost their lives to racial discriminaliztion.
“Enter My Burning House” is the artwork displayed at the Sutter Theater Center for the Arts and is Kahlon’s latest project in which she memorializes victims from the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The seven portraits were painted on top of pages from “The Passing of the Great Race” by Madison Grant, a doctrine spreading the belief of racial purity and influencing U.S. immigration laws in 1920.
A panel discussion was moderated by Narinder Dhaliwal, board president of Yuba Sutter Arts and Culture. Panel participants were Kahlon, Shawntay Arroyo, arts in education coordinator for Yuba Sutter Arts and Culture, and Francisco Reveles, superintendent of schools for the Yuba County Office of Education. The discussion began with the question of what is art and evolved into topics of what is colonialism and how to maintain hope in the face of racial discrimination.
The moderator and panel participants talked about their experiences and background during the discussion. Dhaliwal said she works with native tribes in California and one of the things that gives her constant hope is the reclaiming of their lands. Dhaliwal talked about how there’s a misunderstanding that tribes take back their lands and don’t contribute, but said that wasn’t true because tribes have to apply and go through a lengthy process to be able to acquire their lands back. Dhaliwal said she sees the process of native tribes being able to take back their land as finally being able to chip away the components of colonialism.
Audience members also participated in the panel discussion by asking questions of how to react against leaders who don’t prioritize global warming or how to be able to help other countries who are suffering through colonialism in an extreme way. Other audience members commented about the admiration of Kahlon’s work and asked what the response of her artwork was in Europe.
“This show I think talks a lot about erasure and erasure is really just a tool of colonization,” said Arroyo during the panel discussion. “People tend to think of colonization as something you do to the land but you also do that to people. So many of these works, ‘Enter My Burning House’ is one that I keep going back to. These were people whose main objective was to erase them. They were being colonized in 2012, not that long ago and it shows that this legacy from the past, these traditions are ongoing.”