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Interview: Dev Dhunsi [MFA ‘24] – Tales They Don’t Tell you

Ahead of this year’s graduation and bachelor’s shows, the Royal Institute of Art met with a number of the school’s students, many of them involved in the communication work around the exhibitions, others busy with their final solo exhibitions at Galleri Mejan (the Royal Institute of Art’s student gallery). Based on the artworks the students planned to exhibit during the exhibitions at Konstakademien and Marabouparken, they tell us a little more about their works, and their process and practice.

Tell us about your installation Tales They Don’t Tell You

The installation intertwines past and present by thematising ecosystems, queer theory and mythical tales from the Vedas (1500-500 BC). On two of four walls hang tapestries, ‘Tales They Don’t Tell You, Past’ & ‘Tales They Don’t Tell You, Future’. Placed between them are the sculptures Total Internal Reflection I, II, III, where the components air, water and printed silk fabrics create movement enclosed in a cylindrical shape.

Two male water gods from Indian mythology, Mitra and Varuna, are featured. Mitra rules the inner depths of the sea, while Varuna controls the upper parts: the waves, tides and foam on the ocean’s surface. The water gods, whose relationship is intimate, meet once a month: on the day of the full moon. It is a meeting representing the moon’s two phases: of coming and of going.

The images also reference comic books, gaming and queer history. An interesting example touching on all three is the gaming series Overwatch, using queer-like figures from Indian mythology. Created centuries ago, these representations are now found in a new shape through the game character Symmetra, who becomes spiritualised by pressing the ‘devi’ button.

At the Graduation Show at Konstakademien, I chose to replace my textile image with a Palestinian scarf while wearing a t-shirt with the print ‘Why fight for love when the potential of it is being destroyed’. This is a reminder of the genocide that is currently taking place before the eyes of the world.

How did you develop the images and how are they used in the exhibition?

The photographs I used in the textile production have been manipulated before the actual motif is developed, which can be seen, for example, in the references to the future that appear in the background.

I was incredibly ambitious when it came to making the images, I wanted to do it right. Apart from acting as both model and photographer during the photo shoot – with the help of my partner – I painted my whole self blue. My whole head and body were covered in the colour, which in retrospect I thought I didn’t need to do at all. The colour can be worked out in the post-production: through the threads and the shades of the material.

I usually sew the fabric myself, but I chose a different route for this exhibition. The fabrics are made in collaboration with a sewing studio in the Netherlands that has been active since the 19th century. At the school, I have experimented in the workshops to produce movements, imagery and technical constructions. Muralen, Mekatroniken and the photo studio have been used extensively and throughout the process.

What is your background in art, and what techniques do you usually work with?

Before Mejan I did a bBachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Konsthogskolen in Oslo, it is a large art school with many types of aesthetic expressions, in many ways similar to Konstfack, the other art school in Stockholm. My main medium has always been photography. Sound, film, kinetic techniques and installations were added to my practice a little later.

Crafts have always been present in my work where my parents have been a great source of inspiration. Other family ties to India have also played a big part where most of my relatives are craftsmen and belong to Ramgarhia (the term for craftsmen in the caste system) for several generations back.

The Graduation Show was on display at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts until 9 June, after which it can be seen in digital form at Royal Institute of Art would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dev Dhunsi on winning the Nordic Photo Book Award 2024. Read more about the motivation and subsequent projects here.

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Videopresentation av Tales They Don't Tell you på Galleri Mejan, av Dev Dhunsi.