Ashes to Flowers…The Breathing

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. V, no. 5, p. 10, Spring/Summer 1994:

PERFORMANCE Tuesday, June 21

This project for Front Gallery will involve a month of gardening in the garden behind the Western Front and interventions at a few other discreet locations within the building, particularly the kitchen. Beharry’s project consists of transforming a garden into a kantha, a moon garden, and mausoleum and concludes with a performance ritual to be performed on June 21st. This description is excerpted from Beharry’s notes on the piece.

“The Kantha – In creating the garden kantha in the pattern of my mother’s sari. I am trying to symbolically rejoin my skin and my mother’s skin to the land. I want to reintroduce primarily indigenous plants into the garden as a way of returning the land back to itself. This mirrors my own attempt to find a way to name myself which is outside the current discourse around culture and identity….I want to reflect my mother’s and my presence as “Indo-Canadians”(?), by using sparingly flowers that my mother loved, so that for the night of the performance ritual, they can create the beginning station for the performance…

The Moon Garden – The performance ritual will take place at night. The plants for my mother, are seen by night (eg. silver leaf backs, jasmine, nicotiana). In gardens of many cultures, there is a history of gardens to be viewed by night, or used for night meetings. The garden usually includes water and silver leafed plants which will reflect the moon light, “bending the light.” I am hoping to use the soft light of the moon to reveal the shadows in the garden just as I wish to use the gardening ritual to gently reveal my struggle to rejoin myself to history and place. The essentialism which has a stranglehold on so much of the dialogue around culture and identity leaves me no place to breathe. By doing this performance, I’m trying to find a gentle way to open the dialogue. A way to reach into what is tender.

Mausoleum – The Taj Mahal is one of the most well-known garden mausoleums from South Asian culture. During the performance ritual, a grave will be made by digging into the ground with my hands. Ashes, made from saris and chappari hands from previous performances, will be buried, and flowers will be planted. A remembering of the lives of my mother and grandmothers, whose bodies buried in different places… and a celebration of how culture continues to be passed on and transformed through the body.”

Beharry’s work can be subtle and devotional as well as messy and unconventional. She expands an idea of “public art” to activity which constructs a public through participation and direct contact and finds its ultimate existence in the memory of that public.