In 2019, Dr Rajinder Singh (Raj) was awarded the second Create and Fire Station Artists’ Studios Residency for an artist from an ethnic minority background. Raj’s photography, video and performance work explore ideas around the vulnerable body and its pain, interrogating the economies of power that deny it space and shape. His practice uses choreography and performative objects to explore the ways the human body unfolds around various topographic and symbolic borders.
Raj used the residency to explore and develop a project focused on borders. He invited four migrant activists, Lucky Khambule, Donnah Vuma, Bulelani Mfaco and Dr. Ronit Lentin, to speak to him in his studio, and through these conversations, explored the concept of border policing in Ireland, and its impact on the lives of those traversing the asylum system.
During his residency, Raj worked with Léa Blanchard who offered project management and support. Léa interviewed Raj on his experience of the residency, and its impact on his practice.
Raj, I’d like to ask you about your experience of the residency. What impact did it have on your practice, your art work, the content, the structure, the way you approached it and how you intend to approach it in future?
Well, I got a lot out of it. The biggest upshot from it has been my relationship with MASI [Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland] and my consequent work with the End DP campaign. Lucky and Bulelani and Donnah have reappeared in my work now so that’s a big upshot. That relationship is clear, defined and building, and that was entirely due to that one month at the residency. It’s also the connections I made with the art world. I made a lot of connections within Fire Station Artists’ Studios with many different artists, emerging and established, and that has helped me a lot.
It has had a big impact on my practice in general. I’m a movement based artist and a lot of my work is about the body and the use of the body as an answer to, you know, oppression, but with MASI, with working with Direct Provision, it’s given me a direction. I feel more fulfilled about doing the work I do for them. It’s interesting. I’m currently working on five projects – three out of the five are specifically End DP based.
I’m doing this choreography of protest, we’re developing a simple movement around protest itself, and that’s an important development as part of my work as a choreographer. My birdhouse project, Un-migrant-ing, for instance is sculpture based. I worked with MASI very closely on this. We chose ten Direct Provision centres in Ireland. And then we named those ten birdhouses based on the Direct Provision centres we chose, then we put a tag underneath each and put them in the Botanic Gardens which is quite a conservative space. The project has been getting a lot of attention.
Do you think that the work that we did during your residency, in terms of taking your time when it came to relationship building – would you say that the residency assisted with that?
Absolutely. I did not know about Direct Provision until the residency. My work was with migrants in general. But I also am very very very careful about the respect and the sensitivity which I approach, even with migrant activists. When I joined the residency, you, Áine Crowley and Helen Carey, you kept pushing the sensitivity of Direct Provision and how to approach it carefully. So that has been one very important lesson. I’m a barger. I go forward relentlessly but then you know, that one month allowed me the moment to think.
At the beginning of my residency I met Evgeny Shtorn and it was one of those meetings that set a precedence for everything else. I’ve decided since then not to interact with anyone in DP itself. At least, I would not be another person wanting to hear their stories or write about their stories. I don’t want to be another person wanting another little bit of that. So I only work with migrant activists – they could be people that are staying in the Direct Provision centres but they’re migrants, they’re activists.
My practice wasn’t very collaborative you know, prior to this as in I worked on my own in my city in the way a lot of artists do. Collaborative practice is quite a different space and a lot of artists don’t do collaborative work.
Could you share your experiences of which elements of the residency worked for you, and which didn’t?
The support was excellent. I felt supported, I felt good. I felt that I could do anything, within reason. They released you to work with me. We found a way of working together, even within time restrictions – it was you know only a month. It worked really well. I felt supported. I got the footage that I needed. The footage is amazing and I’ve looked at it again and again. I’m hoping that it will continue to show around Ireland.
What didn’t work was really the restrictions in terms of time because I’m a dad. And there’s a lot that worked. Very little that didn’t, except for how short it was. Obviously, I want to be supported and have that Create and Fire Station support for longer, what else?
As the residency was only a month, initially I struggled as to which way I was going to work. What I suggested was totally different from what I eventually ended up doing, which was an important contribution of the residency, I think. It re-directed me. But I think it was very important that I was re-directed. Helen understood that the scope was too large. But thankfully we scrambled and I got an idea what I wanted to do and then it was cut down from twenty interviewees to four again. I’m glad that I actually proposed it and then I had to whittle it down. I could have whittled it down all wrong and not got anything out of it. But I think I was self-disciplined in some ways, and something happened and that has helped me now and has given me momentum.