THE TRUTH IN THE VOID

By Margaret Wu

Kawita Vatanajyankur is never afraid of being perceived as a feminist artist; however, she identifies as a "bad feminist". Despite being pioneer in her realm, she adopts a demure and feminine demeanor, with long black hair and a lilting voice. 

A graduate of RMIT University in Melbourne majoring in Fine Arts in Painting, Kawita decided to adopt video as primary medium when she encountered Bill Viola's work in 2007. Kawita's deep training in painting is evident; she incorporates the methodology of painting in her video works in terms of the composition of colors and shapes. She purposefully chooses minimal movements with no plot. Her work owns the features of Pop art: everyday subject matters, consumer goods and vivid colors. At the same time, it challenges traditional boundaries in video art by combining painterly gestures with minimal performance. 

Deeply inspired by her mother, who raised her brother and her alone after her father passed away when she was young, Kawita witnessed her mother's endurance as she bore sorrow within while single-handedly raising her children. Kawita decided to speak for Asian women and tries to discuss the role of equality in every aspect in the society. Her video works are conceptual but figurative. She thinks of her practice as a way of meditation. In her performative videos, Kawita tests her body's limit in a playful but a painful way in front of gaily-colored backdrops. She tolerates the strains and pains in order to attain self-enlightenment through a void of mindset. The mechanical repetitive movements create the sense of void, inviting the viewer's emotions to flow in. The work also explores the unsettling psychological sphere of human nature, like peeking into a personal private affair, enticing and empathetic. The ambiguity connects the viewer's questions to the meanings underneath. 

Kawita often suspends herself in the work. The artist stages the daily labors of that Asian women do for the family by mechanizing body and mind. She questions the being and identity of Asian women, who use acceptance and tolerance to fight ambivalence. The sense of vulnerability in the suspension and the reflective redemption present unremitting power, and the dualisms of the beautiful human body with ugly truth and the meditative with the grueling creates emotion-grabbing tension. 

Kawita's video work is distinguished by her specific artistic language. The quasi-painting quality, the exotic colors, the suggestive nudity of the female performer with her repetitive mechanical movements of the subtle pornographic aspect. Her works appear to be inviting, playful and appealing while being simultaneously evocative and meditative. The layers of the work can be compared to the flavors in Thai cuisine, which is famous for the balanced mixed of salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Yet, sometimes the flavors are so strong the bring the viewer to the verge of tears.