Rajni Perera

Anna Shah Hoque
Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Montréal
August 31–October 14, 2023
Rajni PereraA Starry-Eyed Subspecies, installation view, Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Montréal, 2022-23.
Photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro, courtesy of Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Montréal
Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Montréal
August 31–October 14, 2023
In her exhibition Phylogeny, the Sri Lankan-born, Toronto-based contemporary artist Rajni Perera highlights the endurance of humans, flora, and fauna despite ongoing colonial, imperial, and capitalist desires—desires that include pursuing and aggregating resources, territory, and geopolitical influence. Perera has a compelling ability to make chameleon-like works, sometimes inviting in insider knowledge—for instance, that of diasporic South Asian communities—yet speaking to a broader audience. As a diasporic South Asian-Persian viewer, I feel joy and awe in encountering art by Desi artists in fine art spaces. (“Desi” is a pan-term used to signal ties to South Asia that eclipse linguistic, cultural, social, and geographical boundaries.) It remains rare to experience art through a South Asian lens in Canada. Phylogeny marks a transformation in Perera’s practice, progressing her focus from a human-centric imagining of a future that includes Brown and Black resilience to one that explores and interrupts the divide between humans and non-humans. The new series delves into themes of mutation, particularly attending to “sight” to reveal how adaptation is used to counter unimaginable disasters while delivering a missive to museums and art spaces to reconsider their current practices.

Perera reminds us of strategies that are already present in nature. In Lagoon (2023), she uses the jackfruit as an example of how horror can be a resourceful tactic to deter encroachment. The presence of the jackfruit captivated me, as it artfully ushered me into childhood memories in other lands. Beloved in South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, the jackfruit has been subjected to colonial racist rhetoric, often described as pungent or unpleasant. I read Perera’s incorporation of it as a nod to ancestral teachings embedded in living ecosystems. It embodies the epitome of strategic interventions and adaptations. Its soft, spiky green exterior and hidden interior of sweet-tasting, nutritious fleshy pods are a testament to what already exists as a biological mechanism to ward off exploitation and extraction.

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