Glasgow

View of “Aman Sandhu,” 2020. From left: Gada, 2018; Against against, 2019.

View of “Aman Sandhu,” 2020. From left: Gada, 2018; Against against, 2019.

Aman Sandhu

Market Gallery

The title of Aman Sandhu’s solo show “SO GLAD” was derived from a phrase the artist scrawled in green spray paint across the freshly stuccoed walls of Market Gallery: SO GLAD TO HAVE SEEN THIS. The graffiti functioned as a preemptive commentary on the exhibition itself: Suggesting a self-satisfied aside or maybe an Instagram caption, it loosely anticipated how a majority-white art scene might mark its support for work by an artist of color. This hyperbolic sarcasm drove home both Sandhu’s satirical intent and his interest in the pitfalls and tropes surrounding the act of exhibiting as a POC artist.

Throughout the show, the Canadian-born, Glasgow-based artist set up a series of disruptive contrasts, navigating the emotional fallout from the demand placed on POC artists to perform identity in their work. The gallery walls played a key role in producing this visual catachresis, exaggerating cultural affinities and exposing aesthetic impasses. Sandhu covered two walls in Artex, a textured, stucco-like surface coating popular in the households of the diasporic Toronto Punjabi community of the artist’s youth. On these walls, well above the low-slung graffiti, Sandhu nailed a row of palm-size drawings depicting curiosities such as a masked face or a hemorrhoidal swelling. Paired with Gada, 2018, a study of a mace, the drawing Against against, 2019—which features the stenciled statement AGAINST / AGAINST / BUT / DEFINITELY / AGAINST / SUB / ALTERN- / NATING—invokes Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s 1983 essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” articulating the desire for a self-reflexive criticality within artmaking without being forced to take up an abject position.

On a different wall, two drawings, set far apart from one another, both featured Punjabi subjects. Sidhu Moose Wala, 2020, portrays the eponymous Punjabi singer semiobscured by a YouTube Play button alongside the words SIDHU MOOSE WALA / APOLOGISES / FOR / FUCKING UP / AN / ANCESTRAL / CALL, while Pash, 2020, offers a portrait of Avtar Singh Sandhu, aka Pash, a left-wing poet active in the 1970s. Both are figures connected to Sandhu’s interest in Sikhism and India’s political activism. Intriguingly, the artist deliberately sabotaged our affective engagement with the drawings, nailing both atop Paesano, 2020, an irreverent wall drawing tracing the chunky logo of a popular Glaswegian pizza joint.

Sandhu’s lack of critical distance and his associative mixing of his artworks with other ephemera continued with Untitled, 2018–20, a knee-high wooden table strewn with various printouts, photographs, and intricate drawings. One drawing read BEYOND BEYOND, with a red Microsoft Word error line injected under the second appearance of the word. This literal underlining spoke to the wider impossibility of fulfilling the statement’s emancipatory potential within the current systems of professionalism, organization, and linguistic regulation.

Looping silently at the back of the space, the video The Voodoo Sits in the Missing Letter, 2018, helped to clarify Sandhu’s methodology. It shows the artist and another figure conversing. Like coaches and players during sports games, the two cover their mouths to prevent their lips from being read. As a result, the viewer is not party to the tactics disclosed. This summed up the feeling, present throughout “SO GLAD,” that Sandhu was somehow speaking past you, or perhaps just to himself. His range of references was determinedly complex and full of disarming combinations, oscillating between indignation and a gentle nostalgia, while adumbrating the contradictions inherent to being called on to actively represent oneself.