In us between us Kansara brings us into close contact with the warm if quizzical relationship he has had with his maternal grandparents. Much of the work was shot and produced in and around his grandparent’s flat in Ealing, in West London, where many of the videos were shot. Intimate but never sentimental, the works candidly record Kansara and his family in spontaneous conversation, revealing the shifting dynamics of influence and support.
The artist’s grandparents were born in India and moved to London in 1947; his parents were educated in Britain and moved to the US when he was very young. Unsurprisingly, talk sometimes turns to issues related to cultural displacement. But at heart, the work addresses familial hierarchies, emotional availability, and Kansara’s attempts to find meaning in his beloved elders’ memories when those are set half a world away. Grandma visibly delights in conversation for its own sake; she seems more mentally agile than Grandpa but defers to him anyway. During the course of various works they reveal aspects of their upbringing, such as the disparity in their economic backgrounds, and the imprisonment of Grandma’s father during India’s struggle for independence.
Kansara generally shoots with a single stationary camera and ambient light; though often heavily edited, each video unfolds at a leisurely pace. His grandparents appear to be oblivious to (or unimpressed by) the unobtrusive equipment, and that feeds the central conflict enlivening this work, namely the imbalance in the participants’ conception of what is going on. Insofar as “performance” implies awareness of an audience (or its proxy, the camera), Kansara’s grandparents are not acting, but he is.
In I’m Leaving, Kansara reminds his grandparents over dinner that he is “leaving tomorrow,” a phrase Grandpa emphatically repeats as the meal progresses, as if to ease his shock and bafflement. He offers to take Kansara to the airport—an obviously extraneous but loving gesture designed to prolong contact, and to return a modicum of the attention he has received during his grandson’s visit.
The old man’s mounting anxiety is the subject of Very Worried Redux, in which he is seen in an easy chair, fretting over matters large and small, real and imaginary. Off-camera, Kansara tries to reassure him, but he is inconsolable. His image fades in and out, while his reflection in the glass coffee table in the frame’s foreground remains. Kansara flirts with the cliché of the elderly “fading away,” but when Grandpa rises unsteadily to his feet and shuffles out of the frame, the resulting disappearance of his reflection has a resounding finality.
In Grandma, Gautam, and Ghalib, the artist’s Grandmother translates classic Hindi and Urdu love songs. Using the first person to utter a passionate rendition of the lyrics, she often addresses Gautam as though he were her lover, weaving together the realities of memory and lived experience. The viewer bears witness to an emotional outpouring of love and loss where the boundaries of fiction and reality become blurred, confused and ultimately irrelevant.
Dedicated is about the reversal of roles that occurs within a family hierarchy as time goes forward and family members age. The piece focuses on a short span of the Christmas holiday’s when the whole family is together. Through 10 channels of videos shown side by side the viewer is invited into the family ritual.
A series of large photographs titled Chiltern House punctuate the work, providing context and counterpoint to the moving images. In one, the couple pose at their front door dressed for cool weather—Grandpa stoic, Grandma appearing bemused as usual. But most of the photos are unpeopled, and turn our attention back to the rooms of the flat itself in a way that evokes a stage set, a microcosm of the wider world. A shot of the unremarkable brick building suggests that similar domestic dramas might well be unfolding in other homes. Such private traumas are public in scale, universally recognizable, and intuitively understood.