Photo by Hugh Cook | Staff Photographer

Kendall Murphy
Staff Writer

Complete with sparkles, rose petals, and unapologetic female power, the Multicultural Center’s lounge was transformed to showcase Khushboo Kataria Gulati’s works in her exhibition, Iridescent Tongues. The exhibit, which will run until Dec. 15, features paintings and prints that embrace complex themes such as self-love, pain, and identity.

The exhibit includes a range of differing mediums, including prints, paintings, and even a tapestry. A few of the artworks feature mesmerizing sparkles that make the art iridescent. However, not every piece is shimmery, and the exhibit’s title, Iridescent Tongues, speaks more to the colorful and ever-changing identity of the artist. She communicates this identity through her art, perhaps making each artwork similar to her tongue.     

At the opening reception this past Monday, Gulati spoke about the motivation for her art and how making art has helped her navigate and embrace her own queer Desi femme identity. In her art she explores how being desi — which refers to having an Indian heritage while growing up in the United States — has led to her unique persona. Additionally, she uses her femme personality in her work, including typical feminine elements such as flowers and sparkles to communicate her complex themes. During the reception, Gulati went on to describe certain pieces in the collection, captivating the viewers with her honesty and openness.

Gulati spoke about one of her prints entitled Inherited Rhythms (2015), a striking piece featuring a complicated linear pattern adorning the backs of both her and her mother. Gulati explained that the “map/embroidery of pain” present on the two bodies references “the ways we learn to cope and to decorate our pain.” She also pointed out that “we live in a culture that does not know how to wholesomely hold mental illness and deal with chronic pain.” Inherited Rhythms demonstrates how Gulati dives into personal topics often avoided in the mainstream.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Gulati explained that “art has always been a presence in [her] life,” and spoke about fond memories of doing henna with her mother from a young age. Gulati designed one of the of the pieces present, “Brown and Lovely,” in high school. The piece not only asserts the beauty of all people, but also ironically plays on the title of a skin lightening cream called “Fair and Lovely.” From a young age, Gulati was not afraid to make art that challenges the racist status quo.

She also explained her motivation for making her “Dancers” series, which features five different paintings of women mid-movement, including “Unapologetic Fire and Groundedness.” Gulati explained that dance and movement is a way to “unlearn toxic patterns.” The five women depicted seem to represent different sides of one’s identity and encourage the viewer to heal through embracing them all.  

One of the show’s centerpieces is “Dancing Dualities,” featuring a self-portrait of Gulati reclining on a bed of rose petals and defiantly staring at the viewer. Gulati explained that duality for her is present in “many different realms” and that she often “adapts and shifts … but still holds onto” her “rooted self.” The piece captures the reconciliation of her mixed persona. In “Dancing Dualities,” she reclines in a seductive position, yet is fully covered by a traditional Indian garment typically worn by men. This perhaps speaks to her desire to embrace sexuality as both queer and feminine while feeling pressured to remain shielded. Although the artwork is deeply personal, “Dancing Dualities” speaks to the inner turmoil many face while trying to define their identity.

“Iridescent Tongues” also includes more recents artworks with a social justice component, including a tapestry that asserts “#BlackLivesMatter” and a print that proclaims “End Casteism.” These pieces demonstrate that Gulati not only conveys inner healing through her art but also seeks to promote a more inclusive and just world for all.

At the end of the opening reception, Gulati stayed to talk to any visitor who wanted to ask her questions. She is a force for self-love and creative nurturing, and the “Iridescent Tongues” show displays her rich personal journey. Although each work presents intimate explorations of identity, every viewer can connect with Gulati’s iridescent art.

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