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In this short film, interspersed with family photographs, the artist pleats and wears a traditional saree. Part of a larger body of work that includes photographs. Presented as part of the 2023 Annual Student Exhibit in the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College.
"There's an old saying in Malayalam, the language of Kerala, India: 'Kakka kulichal kokkakumo?', which roughly translates to 'Can a crow take a bath and become a crane?'. This saying, rooted in the ideas of identity and self-acceptance, propels the work I create about my cultural heritage and family."
A Language I Understand
I’ve often felt languageless. It’s funny because I grew up in a household that spoke two—English and the south Indian language, Malayalam. And yet, when asked, ‘tell me about yourself or “what’s on your mind,” neither language seems to suffice. Returning to my family’s ancestral home in Kerala, India, after nearly five years, I finally found my “language”; it has no words at all. The language I feel ownership of is a sensory one—the soupy, gooey curries my grandmother makes, five yards of artisan-crafted sareefabric, and the colorful traditions of South India.
The exhibited body of work adopts this visual language to narrate the story of three generations of women in my family: my paternal grandmother, my mother, and myself. My alphabet is a collection of sarees from my late (maternal) grandmother, which I hesitantly “borrowed” from a suitcase full of her untouched belongings. I transform these garments through folding, ripping, and shredding techniques, reformatting the resulting fragments to create multi-dimensional works drawing on the iconic cuisine, fashion, and traditions of the coastal state of Kerala. These works become, therefore, “cut from the same cloth.” Their subject matter—a gluttonous dish called chatti (pot) chor (rice), the pursuit of a perfectly pleated saree, and an “onam pookalam”—reveal the unfulfilled desires of the three women. The work featured in this exhibition depicts an imagined set of circumstances—my grandmother feels her family is well-fed, my mom achieves perfect saree pleats, I create community around my mixed cultural upbringing. The culmination of my studio practice at Ursinus is a singular, simple truth—despite temporal and geographic distance, I’m not so different from the maternal figures in my life after all.
 A saree is a traditional garment worn South Asian women, created from a long, rectangular fabric draped across the body.
 A ‘floral carpet’ or mural typically created in a circular form to celebrate a local, multi-day harvest festival, Onam.
Student Exhibition Year
student art exhibit, 2023, video work, saree, India, family
Varghese, Mekha, "Kakka Kulichal Kokkakumo (Can a Crow Take a Bath and Become a Crane?)" (2023). 2023 Annual Student Art Exhibition Multimedia Works. 1.
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Copyright of this work is held by the artist. It is presented here for educational purposes only and is not for commercial use.