Renluka Maharaj & Seema Shakti
Artist Statement & Bio
This mixed media piece incorporates Renluka Maharaj’s Trinidadian heritage and Seema Shakti’s Guyanese and Pakistani heritage. Through collaborating, we learned of our shared ancestry in the region of Punjab. Our work examines the deep and nurturing relationship that our shared history has with land and water, symbols of multi-generational migration and boundaries that both unite and separate us through time and space.
The towering goddess figure represents timelessness, our South Asian ancestors, and the Indian subcontinent that roots us. The third eye incorporates the idea of Indo-futurism with a goddess holding visions of the future filled with growth and abundance. This vision of a golden age shows us harmoniously thriving. The color gold captures the multi-layered South Asian history and relationship with gold as a precious metal. It depicts womxn’s relationship with gold as a way of owning wealth and passing it down to female descendants. It simultaneously represents the colonialist hunt for gold and riches, leading many Indians to migrate to the Caribbean and other lands as indentured servants beginning in the early 1800s. Water is a prevalent feature in the work, represented as a dividing boundary and uniting force.
The photograph is inspired by the Victorian-era Hidden Mother photographs featuring a mother beneath dark fabric supporting a baby during a long exposure process. The draped figure represents our distant past and brave ancestors who made the dangerous migratory voyage across kala pani (black waters that our ancestors crossed during their voyage). These ancestors carried not only their bodies, but their traditions, food, medicine, and belief systems. It was that which held them through the hardships endured during indentureship. The child that the draped figure is holding depicts our present moment. The full moon illuminates where we are now—a point of connection between our past and future, feeling held and protected by our lineage.
Renluka Maharaj was born in Trinidad and Tobago. She lives and works between Colorado, New York City, and Trinidad. Working with photography, installations, research, and travel, Ms. Maharaj's work—which is often autobiographical—investigates themes of history, memory, religion, gender, and how they inform identity. She completed her BFA at the University of Colorado Boulder and MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received the Barbara De Genevieve Scholarship. Her works are included in numerous institutional and private collections. She has received fellowships and residencies from Vermont Studio Center, Fountainhead Residency, and Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Project For Empty Space.
Seema Shakti is a self-taught visual artist inspired by nature and the power of the feminine spirit. She has been creating since her childhood, and her art practice is a ritual meditation and portal that connects her to her ancestors and the cosmos. Her work celebrates her heritage, identity, relationship to the earth, and the connection between her inner and outer worlds.
Her primary mediums are digital and watercolor. Her upbringing in the Little Guyana neighborhood of Queens, as well as her Indo-Caribbean (Guyanese) and South Asian (Pakistani) heritage, have a strong influence on her work. Seema was born, raised, and currently resides in New York City (Lenape + Canarsie territory).
"Pritvi Mata," 2021. Digital collage print on paper, 30 x 20 inches.