Opening October 31, 2019, the exhibition will position renderings of neon signs from the windows of LA psychics’ storefronts alongside color portraits of occult practitioners and photographs of magical objects. The title SHE TELLS ALL references one of these signs discovered by Kaur on her journey through LA’s occult community. The sign calls to mind both the skeptic, who doubts the power of the clairvoyant, and the power of divine feminine energy that Kaur claims as her own. The consequence is a timely and revealing look at contemporary mystics, material culture, and the nature of identity itself.
Kaur’s impetus to document and explore physical manifestations of the performative nature of identity originated as she was growing up in an American Sikh ashram in Boston during the 1970’s New Age movement. Through her group’s all-white turban-clad dress code, she experienced firsthand the physical performance of identity. As a transplant to LA, Kaur immediately felt the connection between her unusual Northeastern New Age upbringing and LA’s unique and magnetic counterculture. From legendary figures such as artist, performer, poet, and occult practitioner Cameron to the freedom of 1960’s hippies, Los Angeles has long been a mecca for those seeking freedom in both the spiritual and art realms.
As an artist, Kaur is interested in the unique power of portraiture to elicit this performative nature of identity. In this new body of work, SHE TELLS ALL, Kaur engages questions of identity performance by exploring an ever-present and wildly diverse American identity: the modern American witch. Witches are contemporary practitioners of the ancient tradition of paganism, which includes multiple and diverse religious and spiritual beliefs centered on nature worship and humans’ innate connection to magic. However, the aesthetic experience of the American witch is not neutral; it’s camp. The theatrical personae of many of the witches Kaur encounters denotes their status as citizens of this surreal city, where even mysticism is influenced by Hollywood. Kaur photographs these individuals in the context of their material world, where she finds commonplace identity markers such as crystal balls, burning incense and yes, neon signs denoting the mystic. There’s a playfulness there and a real performance of the hyper-stylized self. Yet Kaur’s photographs use these identity markers as a starting point to create a visual record of something more intriguing and ephemeral.
The women in Kaur’s imagery identify with a variety of practices, traditions, and beliefs; her subjects self-identify as witches, but also as psychics, clairvoyants, light workers, mediums, spirit guides, healers, as Mexican witches known as brujas, as initiates in the Afro-Cuban practice of Santeria, and as Druids, among others. Most of the people depicted in Kaur’s images claim several of these labels simultaneously, creating fluid and individual identities, for example in Kaur’s photograph Camille, Lucumí Aborisha Initiate and Reiki Master Teacher we see a beautiful young woman lying in the brilliant LA sunlight surrounded by tokens of the fortune-teller: cards, crystals, and astrological symbols. Camille, who lives in LA but is originally from Detroit, follows the Lucumí tradition, a variation of the Afro-Cuban practice of Santeria, both of which originated in Western Africa. Camille is simultaneously aware of the physical performance of her identity, achieved by dressing herself in stunning white robes alongside props, and yet she is also deeply spiritual and sincere in her spiritual beliefs. The identities of all of the witches Kaur depicts are innately performative and fraught with contradiction, and this is what compels Kaur. Her portraits reveal more than just performance and costumery, as the presence of real human identities emerge rich with complication and wild with an intangible otherness that engages a range of viewer, the enchanted and the skeptical alike.
The concept of witchcraft, a wide-ranging system of beliefs that engage and explore our connections with nature, with the unseen, and with magic, is a tool we can use to find meaning in dark times such as in America today, when many of us have given up hope. There are questions in this world without answers, and answers without questions, yet we still yearn to know all. In SHE TELLS ALL the power of the divine feminine shines from Kaur’s images, where diverse and resplendent women stake their claim to be seen and to hold forth their light to illuminate a path for our future.