Priya Kambli

Lives and works in the USA

“Buttons For Eyes”

The title refers to my mother’s playfully nuanced question, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?”. A question laced with parental fear, which in hindsight echoes broader concerns. Not necessarily an individual’s inability to see some trivial object right in front of them, but our collective inability to see well enough to navigate in the world. As an artist whose work is bound in the personal and is irrefutably placed in the context of migrant narratives, the question in play in my work is how does the personal (or private) intersect with the political (or public)? Or simply, in the face of rising white suprematism in the United States, how do I document my lived personal experience, connecting my migrant story with the universal experience?

“Buttons For Eyes” is informed by the loss of my parents and my immigrant experience, here I rephotograph my inherited family photographs, documents and objects carried by me to America in my home in the Midwest. These artifacts – letters, official papers, artwork of children, and family photographs, have acquired some meaning from the effort of various hands to preserve them. But other meanings do fade with the passage of time. In a sense their original significance, for the sake of which someone saw fit to preserve them, is replaced gradually by the significance inherent in something which has been saved. As the caretaker of this private archive, I seek to fortify the meaning in these documents by layering them, piercing them, reproducing them, and obscuring them. The intention for the works to offer new perspectives without completely omitting the old.

In order for this series to expand and become complete, I need to connect my ancestors to my adopted land – to house their ghosts in the Midwestern landscape. Although the Midwest has played a prominent role in the making of my work – by the use of its light, by (re) photographing in my 100-year-old bungalow, and the saturation of color dictated by its seasons- the landscape’s physical has however remained invisible. For The Prix Virginia, I want to foreground the midwestern landscape, to claim this land by grounding myself and my ancestors in its soil.

Though intensely personal, Buttons for Eyes looks outward by documenting a story that has particular resonance in the ongoing political climate; a story of migration and cultural hybridization exploring the resulting fragmentation of family, identity, and culture.