Seychelles Biennale of Contemporary Art 2022 – July 31 to August 28 |06 August 2022
‘When events happen to you, you feel bad but that was what made me who I am’ - artist Avilla Damar
Known for her symbolic and sometimes sarcastic art, Mauritian artist Avilla Damar, whose art work is on display at the Seychelles Chinese Cultural Centre, has opened up to our journalist about her past and the way it has shaped her into the artist she is today.
Seychelles NATION: Tell us a bit about yourself as an individual and as an artist
Avilla Damar: Basically, I have been on the art scene in Mauritius since about a decade. I have been doing art before but I was not really exhibiting. My educational background is a mix of Mauritian system and Indian system because I did my first degree in Mauritius and my Masters in Bangalore, India. So there is this Indo-Mauritian mix.
Seychelles NATION: How have your past experiences affected you as an artist?
Avilla Damar:My personal background is quite a broken one which makes it interesting also. When events happen to you, you feel bad but ultimately that was what made me who I am. What pushed the art out of me were those difficulties. All these came together, perhaps to make me stronger later. After I completed my first degree, I took up a job, I got married but my Masters was done after I was separated from my husband. I decided then to go back to what I had left and what I had sacrificed.
Seychelles NATION: How does your art installation reflects your experiences?
Avilla Damar: The iconographies in my work for the Seychelles biennale, while relating to the lockdown, also had a very personal kind of relation. Little Amal, a three metre puppet done by a UK company, is a tribute to a little Syrian girl named Amal, who got lost during migration from Syria to Manchester. In my work, little Amal is me. I am using it as an iconography but it is totally me. It was not before the first lockdown that it struck me that this is connected in a way to me, because I also in a way got displaced.
After the first lockdown in Mauritius, I was very fearful of what was happening. We did not have time to prepare. There came a time when temporarily, there was a shortage of basic items. In my work, you will see the baguette of bread. It is a personal symbol of middle-class struggles. You will also see the Fennec fox. During lockdown, I felt I became a Fennec fox on social media. I had to look through things I did not intend to look at. The last iconography I used is some kind of small red demon, which they call Hell-beings in Buddhism. They are actually tying people and taking them away to hell. From the time that Covid-19 began, a lot of people were dying around me. I could hear the sound and see the lights of the ambulance daily. I thought I was going to be next. I had that feeling. So I saw Covid-19 as that little hell-being. It became a representation of those deaths occurring during Covid-19 and that fear.
Seychelles NATION: What do you try to convey through your art?
Avilla Damar:My signature element that I often use when I create an iconography is the piggy bank. It is a symbol of capitalism, an issue that I keep talking about because if I have to resume my art it is just a story of middle-class struggles. I feel these many a time. I feel somehow that the middle class people are the ones who suffer more than the ones who are down the ladder completely. In Mauritius those who are completely down get a lot of social aid and they do not have to pay taxes. The ones who are at the top, for them it is nothing to pay taxes. Those who suffer the most are the ones in between. We are neither given the privileges of the underprivileged because they think we can afford and we do not have as much money as those people higher up so we are the ones who suffer the most.