New Voices in the Nordics: Dev Dhunsi

An interview between the artist Dev Dhunsi and curator Daría Sól Andrews

Dev Dhunsi, Tales They Don't Tell You, 2024, Installation View

Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger

'Encircling stories' presents a series of sculptural, photographic textiles which rest on the borders between a multitude of mediums - collage, mixed media, photographs, sculpture, and experimental printing techniques. Utilising textures and layers, the works are neither one thing nor the other - neither solely photograph nor strictly sculpture, yet ambiguous in their multidisciplinary nature.

One reads however a strong focus on the intersection between photography and textile and the commonality which can be found in these two mediums. What is at stake here? What connections do you see between these mediums and the influence they perhaps have on one another?

In the project you are referring to, I firstly want to address that it became a super important aspect within my artistic practice to establish a new set of ways to rework and present my photographs. Through listening to sensory channels, while capturing with the camera, I have become aware of how to bring new life and energy to the presentations and their materiality. Although I am set to exhibit a completely new project at CHART, 'Encircling Stories' remains relevant, as fundamentally, images shape how humans see the world, while textiles often take shapes around us.

Now in this meeting point I think there is potential to play around with the symbiotic relationship between the two mediums. It is the history (its production, geographical journey or wear and tear) embedded within the fibers of the textile that makes me want to reveal (or sometimes hide) that very information. And it is when I want to hide or reveal, that I stretch, fold, hang, liquify or otherwise manipulate the visibility of the printed textiles you find in a series like 'Encircling Stories'.

Dev Dhunsi, Encircling Stories, Installation View, 2023

Courtesy of the artist and MELK

Through this blending of materials - printing on fabrics, utilising bamboo frames, drawing upon textile machinery and apparatuses - you are bridging a gap, between mediums, cultural history, and personal experience.

In these works I experience a clashing of industries and culture - the mapping of the longest factory in the world, the textile machinery (the sewing in the frames, the rolling press, the stockings, etc.), the craftsman-like frames and natural materials.


What role do themes of industry, production, consumption, labour, perhaps specifically within the textile industry, play in this series?

For this specific question I would like to add a citation from Antonio Cataldo’s curatorial text written towards one of my installations:

“In 2022, when Dhunsi visited his extended family in India, he was offered to see the world's longest factory building. 'My imagination was running wild. How is the sound behaving in such a space?' When his father moved from his native lands, he brought with him three carpets his mother had made and gifted him, symbolically maintaining a cultural connection and an idea of home for his entire life—a textile factory, located in the town where his family currently lives, producing shawls complicates the encircling of stories.”

Dev Dhunsi, Encircling Stories, Installation View, 2023

Courtesy of the artist and MELK

As this bridging of materials is achieved, so too is a more intimate, nostalgic bridging of personal history. Referenced through the literal movement in your works where a textile or photograph produced in Norway is photographed in India, you bridge cultures and experiences.

I read here a representation of yourself - two cultures meeting at some intersection, where both necessarily inform the other. How do you view the role of self-discovery, self-reclamation, nostalgia and memory in this series? There is a level of intimacy and introspection to your photographs - to what extent are family, childhood, and generational histories important to your work?

The role of self-reclamation is ever present and evolving. One learns one's own history on a deeper level while also coming of age. I often revisit situations from my upbringing in my work. By adopting a new approach, they can take on a completely new significance compared to the impression I used to have.

What has been important to me is to work from a decolonising perspective and to dig deeper into political movements that have gained some traction in Western news and culture, looking at how they have been interpreted.

Dev Dhunsi, Tales They Don't Tell You, 2024, Installation View

Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger

There is a quite delicate and compelling conversation between hard and soft elements happening in your works - with materials like metal, steel, and wood juxtaposed with soft and gentle fabrics.

Stretched onto the wooden and metal frames, though they float within the frames, there is a clear tension present in the way they are sewn to the frame. Yet in other works the flowing, soft nature of the fabrics reigns free - they are loose, waving in a breeze, the images hang and sway in the air like a textile clothesline. And this is inherently contrasted with the large fabric prints which have been rolled and stretched through a roller press.

Can you speak on the use of tension in your work? What purpose does it hold for you?

Bamboo for example is often used for building constructions in Asia, but in Scandinavia it's mainly used in gardens - yet another juxtaposition of soft and hard. For me this contrast is mainly about how information is revealed, as I touched on earlier, and following a narrative timeline that moves from being invisible to static display.

This project has been unfolding through several exhibitions, starting from sublimation print on silk, constantly moving around in water currents, or "floating freely" as you describe it. Later, fabrics were more strictly stretched inside these bamboo or metal frames or shown hanging on thin and fragile lines. This, together with a book publication was the viewer's first chance to see the actual information contained in the images.

Ultimately, the dialogue between soft and hard materials is about the decision of visibility.

Dev Dhunsi, Tales They Don't Tell You, 2024, Installation View

Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger

Movement feels essential to this series - the movement present in the machinery and apparatuses. There is a rhythm and notion of action, movement, production, industry, class structures – but also movement in a migratory, journeying sense. The images take us on a literal journey between countries, referencing belonging, diaspora, home, nativeness.

There is an interesting relation to time, as we experience the passing of time in a quite literal way - through a geographical but also generational and autobiographical sense. We experience images of maps and geography, personal portraiture, the mapping of landscape and personal history.


Can you speak on the different levels of movement you are referencing in this series?

I started with the term “moving image” and a desire to activate a word play and create analog works around it. Firstly I shipped printed images to New York and realized how it felt to lose control. By losing this control I also became eager to gain it, so I started looking into printed material arriving by mail in public archives, so I could incorporate these visual materials into my own creations.

A huge element in "Encircling Stories" has been an interest is the ground being covered while travelling. If you take the train over 12.000 km crossing the heart of India, the journey actually spans further than the distance between Oslo and New Delhi. I am continually interested in the relationship between land grabbing and photography, as well as the distribution of textiles and photographs, and wanted to find a way to collaborate with a colleague in India. In order to comment on the global supply chain of textiles and images, I sent some to India to have them photographed in a new context. Revolving around the concept of images in motion, this project attempts to challenge the conventional understanding of still photography and embraces the idea that images are not static, but dynamic entities that can transcend boundaries. The narratives are not confined to a single moment but extend over time, contemplating the connections and transitions between different phases of the depicted stories.

I wanted to disrupt traditional notions of temporal linearity and produce a sense of temporal dislocation. Questions in the order and sequence of events, prompt us to consider how time can be both linear and fragmented. This can be demanding on one’s own perspective, but I do in fact relate this feeling to belonging, albeit a fragmented sense of belonging.

Dev Dhunsi, Encircling Stories, Installation View, 2023

Courtesy of the artist and MELK

"Images are not static, but dynamic entities that can transcend boundaries."

Dev Dhunsi

Artist

Dev Dhunsi is a Norwegian-Indian multidisciplinary artist. His projects, developed in large installations, combine textiles, lens-based works, and experimental printing techniques into mixed media presentations. The images themselves speak to sociopolitical and anthropological questions that exist beyond the picture’s frame. Dhunsi’s works examine identity, origin, and encounters between cultures, exploring the cultural bridge between his ancestries and upbringing in the physical landscapes of Scandinavia and the techno- and mediascapes of Asia. Dhunsi explores how a site turns into sight, pointing to photography’s intrinsic historical function of land grabbing, and how photographic representations have been used to serve the interests of dominant power structures.

Dev Dhunsi (b. 1996, Trondheim) lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden. The artist has been educated at the Oslo National Academy of The Arts and The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. He has recently explored the distribution and attitudes towards photography and textile production creating a symbiotic relationship between the two mediums, while simultaneously looking at the world through a lens of queer theories and diasporic gaze. Recent exhibitions include: Fotogalleriet (Oslo; NO), Mint abf (Stockholm; SE), MELK (Oslo; NO), Kunstnernes Hus (Oslo; NO), National Sports Museum in Stockholm (SE; Stockholm).

Photo by Ola Cappelen Wik

Daría Sól Andrews (b. 1993) is an independent curator and art critic currently based between Reykjavík, New York and California.

In 2021 Daría attended the Whitney Independent Study Program as a Curatorial Fellow in New York. In 2017 Daria founded her home gallery as curatorial director of Studio Sol, where she renovated a warehouse building and presents exhibitions in a living room, home based setting.

She holds an MA in Curating, Art Management and Law from the University of Stockholm and a BA in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley.