Panna Parmar is a Worcester based artist, working across all media including painting, printmaking, mixed media, digital and illustration.
With a body of work that highlights the unity between her Indian and British heritage, we are very pleased to showcase her latest work as one of the newly commissioned pieces in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. We caught up with Panna to find out a little more about her work and the experiences that shape her practice.
Worcester Arts Workshop it’s supporting local artists so it’s an organisation that I can get behind. I can see that Worcester is becoming more diverse (thank goodness!) and WAW was one to the few organisations that wants to celebrate and highlight artists and people of colour, thus better reflecting the local community. The arts do tend to embrace diversity in general, but I find many organisations struggle to understand their own bias, and attempts to include POC can feel like tokenism or box ticking for the Arts Council. True inclusion comes from addressing our biases and structures, then fearlessly empowering those that aren’t being represented. WAW is doing just that with this project. They sent out a call to find artists of colour, addressing that they have been underrepresented by the organisation. That is why I wanted to be involved.
It’s always challenging and thrilling as an artist to get your work out of your studio and into a public space, open for scrutiny and interpretation. The challenge is that the viewer, in their own unique manifestation of life, experiences the work as we, the artist, intended it to be. The thrill is seeing your work experienced by people and learning about how your intentions for the work spark debate, thought and emotion in others.
Oh god yes! I’m of the generation that was bought up to just “integrate”, blend in, fit in, aspire to be like white people, but make sure you don’t forget that you’ve got strong Indian traditions and cultures to uphold too. This was and still is confusing. For a long time, I chose to abandon many of my traditions and to make myself more palatable to my white peers. Why? Well when I spoke of racism to my white friends it was often explained away, that I was being too sensitive or that I had to empathise with ignorance rather than acknowledge my own hurt. I was given the blue pill and I swallowed it. I did also experience racism from my brown and black peers, who embraced the one dimensional interpretations of themselves and called people like me a coconut, brown on the outside and white on the inside. Stuck between two worlds I always felt like I was fighting to be understood, but didn’t quite understand why. My first painting, the starting point for this series was about despair and depression. I didn’t make the connection that my mental health may have been so intrinsically linked to my lived experiences of racism until the BLM protests. The death of George Floyd was a tragic catalyst that made a lot of us stop, think and demand justice. I think the BLM protests have given a voice for a lot of people of colour who are fed up with keeping quiet about our racist experiences.
Racism is fatal, we all saw it, still see it. Racism ends life. It is your oxygen supply cut off by a knee to the neck and your full life potential being cut off by persistent aggressions based on racist stereotypes. The BLM protests made me revisit my painting, it made me look at the work differently and realise that my own mental health struggles were fundamentally linked to the racism and subsequent silencing I’d experienced. The paintings are a direct response to how my two cultures, British and Indian occupy a space, how two figures in society might occupy a space and that it doesn’t have to be disharmonious. Given some thought and acceptance two humans can peacefully occupy shared spaces, on a canvas and hopefully in our communities.
We’re looking forward to sharing Panna’s latest work in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
Author: Eleanor Miles