Snow White Meets Prince Thomas

by Andy Coughlan

Interstitial Spaces
Prince V. Thomas
March 1 - March 29, 2003
The Art Studio, Inc.
Beaumont, Texas

Prince V. Thomas's installation of thirteen chromogenic prints (from his Interstitial Spaces series) and video (Mediation)expose the "cultural negotia­tions" of a Kuwait-born Indian raised equally in Texas and India. Thomas confronts many cultural assumptions within these two cultures with a thoughtful point-blank clarity.

Thomas explains in his artist state­ment, "I am an East Indian and Ameri­can simultaneously. In other words, I am unable to distinguish where in which my Indianness stops and my American-ness begins." This frank dialogue with a U.S. reader/audience (one assumes the international audience is slim in Beau­mont) reveals a refreshing use of the artist statement; a tepid genre that often omits race, color, economic background as static information. Static is precisely the focus of Thomas' work. Using television white noise as a recurring motif, Thomas depicts the snowy TV picture in various colors and blurry renditions throughout his images and video. The media air­waves are potentially a site for political activism as seen in the work of media collective, Paper Tiger TV and artists who work in pirate radio. The interstices between Thomas' interventions open a space for this visual artist to address two cultures at once.

Thomas exposes the (somewhat predictable) tensions of a multicultural society; tensions between classes and ethnic groups; and between immigrants and native-born residents. Flag is a strik­ing example of this tension. The shape of a flag is superimposed over orange-tinted TV snow. The message seems to welcome "huddled masses" yet, at the same time, enclose them behind a barbed-wire barrier seen at the bottom of the frame.

The Maharaja's New Clothes shows the invisible sacrifice that many U.S. immigrants make when leaving their homeland and social caste behind. A black line-drawing of a 7-11 employee (wearing a logo-embroidered shirt and bowing his head in supplication) is superimposed over three bands of images, including a negative of the Red Fort castle in Delhi, India and colored TV snow.

Lighty's 'n Darky's, a self-portrait, shows Thomas with his eyes closed and head wrapped in bandages. His face is flanked by two additional iden­tical portraits in color and black-and-white. Thomas' alarming title refers to a racial slur used in contemporary Indian society.

The white picket fence, a classic symbol of American domestic bliss, is used to good effect as a symbol of cul­tural dominance in Assimilations. The outline of a fence partly covers the face of an Indian woman whose eyes are closed and whose head is turned away, as if she is resting on a pillow. The styl­ized fence posts change in color from dark speckled gray to pure white. Assimilations underscores the interstices between the fence, the posts, and the American dream.

Plymouth II shows a gray stone hovering over blurred static. Behind the static, we see a faded appearance of a face and astupa (a Hindu shrine). The blurred and stretched treatment of these elements implies a movement of large proportions, as though this rock is a meteor set to collide with Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thomas' Plymouth II implies that those who leave their cul-ture behind for "freedom" often inflict misery on the culture of their destination.
Mediation, the 6 and a half minute video includes elements from Thomas' photographs superimposed over several scenes: a cloudy sky, a woman walking on a beach, and a hand repeatedly mak­ing a fist. Throughout the video, Thomas overlays a band of speckled gray from television static as well as a soundtrack evoking rushing water. The innocuous scenes appear to be shot from behind a waterfall of white noise, flickering between the sprays of video signal. The audio soothes the tensions inherent in cultural clashes we confront (or ignore, depending on your position of privilege) on a daily basis.

Finally, Thomas' Interstitial Spaces reveals more cracks in the American dream than possibilities for political empowerment. One is reminded of the hypocrisy deeply rooted in a society founded by "outsiders."
Andy Couchlan is a British-born artist, writer, actor, and director. He is working on a Master's Degree in English at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.