I’m an Indian American queer woman originally from the suburbs of California. I comfort myself by reminding myself that I am one of many 20-something year old’s trying to figure out my life’s purpose. When someone asks me to write a bio, I really don’t know what to call myself. I’m neither an “artist” nor a “writer” but I’m poking my head up from beneath the water of uncertainty into both those worlds. Can I please just be a “student” forever? I’m learning, and trying to absorb, and I’m doing both these things to keep my brain active and my soul fed. Currently I’m on a Watson Fellowship year exploring artist identity within two contexts: the global and the local. Whilst traveling about, coordinating meetings with art world practitioners (and waiting for replies), I’m also exercising my writing skills through AFO, which I find to be a more than warm and welcoming space to share my thoughts surrounding contemporary art.
AFO: What do you believe our role as artists/writers/QTPOC /people is in supporting communities that aren't our own?
Lekha Jandhyala: I’d like to think that my role is to give further presence to the art and artists considerably less represented in the contemporary art world. By engaging with communities that aren’t my own I have the opportunity to learn from philosophies and life practices different from my own. I am still discerning what communities I consider myself a part of but through engagement I am able to strengthen my sense of identity while also finding intersections between myself, my experience, and other’s.
AFO: When you’re not writing for for AFO, what are you doing?
LJ: Making tea, attending an art exhibition, or walking around finding dessert.
AFO: How do your personal experiences inform your work?
LJ: I began my exploration of myself through my Indian and American identity but I am an amalgam of cultures, stories, and memories. A hodgepodge of many practices and participations, my identity is still taking shape. At age four, I started Bharatanatyam (Indian Classical Dance) classes. Teaching me more than just graceful movement, my guru gave me a cultural education in the tenets of Hindu mythology and tradition, the history of India through its literature and poetry. 11 years laters, as a member of the Arpana Dance Company, I was invited to perform in Japan in collaboration with Kinnara Taiko, a Japanese American drumming ensemble based in Los Angeles. On the Kinnara-Arpana Tsunami Relief Benefit Tour were fifteen Bharatanatyam dancers, Indo-American high school suburbanites and fifteen Japanese American Taiko drummers, some of whom were veterans of World War II and internment camps. As we performed in ancient temples, small villages, and centers of tradition and learning, a defining common ground became clear: reverence for our traditions and culture in a predominantly American environment. Through the stories exchanged over long bus rides, at post-performance dinners, and while walking through the streets of villages and cities with my wise Taiko-companions, we shared, observed, and learned from each other. We connected as artist-practitioners of an ancestral form. Our roots shaped our artistic identity. Today, my work surrounds artists who consider their roots in their practice.
AFO: What is the story of your name?
LJ: My name Lekha (pronounced LAY-kah) means “letter” in Sanskrit. Just as in English, my name means both “letter” as in an alphabet character or “letter” as in a written message. My parents simply liked the sound of it and I do too. My birth name is actually Srilekha, but my parents always called me Lekha. The “Sri” part means auspicious or beautiful and can oftentimes be found in front of another name. The “sr” sound does not exist in the English language so it can be difficult for people to pronounce. When I was little I didn’t like the incorrect sound of “shr” instead of “sr” so I had everyone call me Lekha instead.
AFO: What song do you have on repeat lately?
LJ: Ikarus by Ladi6