Eco-Crip is a series of digital images, created by artist Aminder Virdee, that combines botanical drawings, Punjabi scripture and personal x-rays through the use of digital data art and Machine Learning (a branch of Artificial Intelligence and computer science).
By bringing disability and ecology together – two disciplines that have been inherently ignored throughout history and contemporary studies – Aminder has created a new visual art form which she terms; the ‘cybotanical’. This is the fusing of the disabled cyborg body (disabled people who have internal and external implants, devices, technologies, and prostheses) with botanical illustrations.
Through researching and collecting historical Indian botanical art, Aminder is engaging with its extraction from the hands of colonialism, as well as the violence of its continued preservation in contemporary and white-led institutions and collections. In India, the botanical arts are known as a subgenre of ‘colonial flora’ that emerged in the 16th to 19th centuries under the patronage of the East India Companies (first by the Dutch, then the French and British), and are what art historians call ‘Company School Painting’ – or Kampani in Hindi. However, this colonial term does not speak to the rich, unique, and broad range of South Asian painting styles within the archives.
These drawings and paintings we’re primarily composed by indigenous Indian draughtsmen and artists from marginalised communities, yet within the archives, these artists have been anonymised and suppressed by colonial rule. Instead, these archives are credited to Company corporate commissioners, institutions and patrons. The erasure is an ongoing reminder of the personal and cultural loss inflicted by the West.
This erasure and fight for ownership are also present in Aminder’s personal medical archives. Through the system of medicine, bodies – particularly disabled bodies – become sites of other people’s work, where data is extracted and boundaries often go unconsidered in the name of ‘care’.
In Eco-Crip, Aminder has translated these two archives into data sets and entered them into an algorithm. This has sorted the images based on visual similarities and connections, creating new forms that are sometimes beautiful, and other times more viscerally fleshy.
These images are annotated in Punjabi, acting as a signature to reclaim ownership of both images. They also acts as subheadings, from left to right they read: ਅਪਾਹਜ ਸਰੀਰ ਵਿਰੋਧ ਦੇਸਥਾਨ ਹਨ (Disabled bodies are sites of resistance); ਅਪਾਹਜ ਸਰੀਰ ਗਤੀਸੀਲਤਾ ਨ ੂੰ ਪਾਰ ਕਰਦੇਹਨ (Disabled bodies transcend mobility); and ਅਪਾਹਜ ਸਰੀਰ ਭਵਿਿੱਖ ਹਨ (Disabled bodies are the future). This use of language is a further act to decolonise both the botanical and medical material.
For Beyond Breaking Point, Aminder is presenting documentation of a physical exhibition of Eco-Crip in the form of two gifs. These prints were displayed on x-ray lightboxes in the group exhibition Mob-Shop, Derbyshire Libraries, 2021.
Aminder has begun to retrieve the Indigenous Indian Artists names left out of Kampani (Company School Painting) during the 16th-19th century, a gradual act to decolonising the National and Historical Botanical Art and Science Archives. These artist include: Bhawani Das, Rungiah, Govindoo, Manu Lall, Ram Das, Haludar (Bengali Artist), Vishnupersaud, Mansur, Vishnu Prasad, Lakshman Singh, Cheluviah Raju, Gorachand.
These names have been found through archives, recent journal articles by Indian academics and global collectors currently reinserting these lost art masters of India.
This work is guided through Aminder’s ancestral lens, as a mixed Punjabi-Hindi child of the Indian diaspora.
All Images and Rights Reserved © 2022 Aminder Virdee. The use of any image is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained. The taking of any photographic images from this exhibition is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained. This due to the extremely personal nature of the work (containing the artist’s body).
We will be sharing elements from this exhibition, and the rest of our programme across our digital platforms, so follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out.
Aminder Virdee is a South Asian transdisciplinary and multi-artform artist, STEM creative, writer and creator based in London. Her work has been exhibited across the UK and internationally, including at the National Gallery with Art in Flux, National Theatre of Scotland, Lyric Theatre, TATE Exchange at TATE Modern, European Film Festival 2021. More recently the audio-visual work, ‘KaleidoSkeleton Ti: The Desi Cyborg (2020-21)’, was exhibited, screened, and discussed as part of the European Film Festival in 2021, as well as being published in the BFI’s Official Sound and Sight ‘Winter Special’ Magazine for the Films of the Year 2021-22 (Vol 32, Issue 1), and the BFI website.
Additionally, Aminder is a Trustee at UK’s leading disability-led live music accessibility organisation Attitude is Everything, and is regularly involved with community justice organising, and artivism. She is the founder and president of Disabled Intersectional Voices in the Arts (DIVA Society at UAL), and is co-founder of Cripjoy. See full bio here.