Professor Leena Jayaswal Resists the Diaspora

by Bob Collom

“I don’t think I’ve figured that out yet,” Professor Jayaswal offered as she reflected on her Jayaswal at Talk editsearch for personal identity, “It perpetuates my mission.” On March 22, 2016, in the Media Innovation Lab at American University, Leena Jayaswal, Associate Professor in the School of Communication narrated her personal journey growing up as an Indian-American artist during her lecture, “Motherland: Dissecting Identity and the Diaspora”.

From her earliest memories moving to Ohio through her latest projects on racial representation Jayaswal has sought to reconcile the two cultural identities, which pull at her daily. She recalled her family’s first attempts at American acculturation through participation in sporting events. How it was so painfully obvious that her family was different from the townspeople. And how she did not quite know what that difference meant.

Jayaswal proceeded to explore her Indian heritage through the photographic exploits inspired in her by her father. She was reintroduced to her native culture through travels to India. There she experimented with both Western and Indian photographic techniques. She sought to marry the Western focus on the black and white with the unique Indian focus on color. She wanted to balance the ideas of both Eastern and Western techniques and philosophies in her work.

Jayaswal Family in NewpapereditJayaswal’s photography speaks to this mission whether in her documentation of India’s streets, of arranged marriages, of Indian-American beauty pageant contestants, of the Ganges, of her mother’s saris, or of her own son. Finding beauty in imperfection and humor in the mundane, Jayaswal seeks to reconnect with her homeland’s culture, people, spirituality, and traditions. Her mission to understand her identity in the world has produced visually striking and provocative projects.

Jayaswal is currently working on several upcoming projects to further her mission. One looks to provide a digital means of interacting with her mother’s 238 saris to learn about their significance. Another, more experimental project, obscures the form of a “Princess of India Barbie” through long exposure photography. Her final project, “Mixed Race”, seeks to give voice to the mixed race population in a culture wherein, “Mixed race voices are completely lost.” Professor Jayaswal has and continues to use her own struggles with diaspora to further her mission of understanding and developing a personal identity through art.


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