A dialog between Zain Alam, Dorothy Dhillonn, Bibi Dhillonn, Ravi Dhillonn, and Michelle Caswell. The unique version of this conversation appeared in SAADA’s Tides magazine.
In 2017, the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) acquired digital copies of silent house film footage donated by Bibi Dhillonn. Bibi’s father, Sharanjit Singh Dhillonn, came to america to pursue a grasp’s degree on the University of Oklahoma. In 1959, Sharanjit married Dorothy, a fellow scholar, in Norman, Oklahoma. Collectively, they raised four youngsters, shifting to North Edwards, after which later Lancaster, California, where Sharanjit’s job as a chemical engineer at Borax was based mostly. The Dhillonn house movie footage paperwork their wedding ceremony ceremony, as well as offers an unprecedented glimpse into every day household life for South Asian People within the later 1950s and early 1960s.
“Through Lavaan, the artist puts Dhillonn’s historic home movies into conversation with the politics of daily life for South Asian Americans today.”
In 2017, SAADA acquired a grant from the Pew Middle for Arts and Heritage to launch a brand new undertaking, The place We Belong: Artists in the Archives. As a part of the undertaking, five South Asian American Artists created new art reimagining historic materials in SAADA. One of many collaborating artists, Zain Alam (who performs as Humeysha), was inspired by the Dhillonn house movie footage to create Lavaan, a sound and video piece through which the artist not only created a score for Dhillonn’s silent footage, however remixed it with modern information protection of anti-Sikh and anti-South Asian violence. By way of Lavaan, the artist puts Dhillonn’s historic house films into dialog with the politics of day by day life for South Asian People at the moment.
On March 8, 2019, SAADA co-founder Michelle Caswell facilitated a collection of conversations with Dorothy Dhillonn (wife of the late Sharanjit Singh Dhillonn), Bibi Dhillonn and Ravi Dhillonn (the daughters of Dorothy and Sharanjit), and musician Zain Alam.
The text under has been frivolously edited for length and clarity. A full transcript of the interview is out there right here. As a soundtrack to this interview, we offer a brand new four-part remix EP of Humeysha’s Departures. After premiering in 2018 on Stereogum, Departures has been reworked by collaborators akin to Kurt Feldman of Ice Choir and ex-Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Myles Avery, in addition to Humeysha’s personal Dylan Bostick (Long Distance Name). Pay attention now and skim on under:
Departures (remixes) by Humeysha
Michelle: Bibi and Ravi, what was your reaction once you noticed your loved ones’s house films for the first time?
Bibi: That was actually emotional because I had no concept what was on them. I saw my grandmother, who I used to be actually close to, but I didn’t even know we had any shifting pictures of her. So it was an actual shock and just actually, really emotional to see her, but in addition to see my brother, because he passed away as properly. It was actually shifting. I was so glad that we had these shifting photographs of all of us in our previous house. It was pretty exciting.
Ravi: I take a look at the footage and I feel, who have been these individuals? Their faces are so young they usually look so totally different from the faces I keep in mind rising up, there were smiles on them, not figuring out what the longer term would maintain. It’s unimaginable how lovely they both are, an exquisite couple, together with his turban and her sari. I used to be still stunned to hear my father’s voice and the way pleased he sounded. That’s not the father I knew; he was so critical, and so, so burdened down. And once I take a look at that early footage of us as youngsters, Bhagat and me enjoying, I noticed that there was this happiness we had. We had a cheerful childhood for a while, you already know?
Michelle: Did seeing the footage change how you consider your childhood?
Ravi: It does. In fact as you become old and also you turn out to be an adult, you come to see your mother and father another way. However in taking a look at it as an outsider, I might simply see them as this couple and understanding the history that I know, assess all the things in another way. It simply permits a person to have a special perspective whenever you see the footage yourself. It’s a kind of disembodied type of expertise. I’ve felt totally different ever since I’ve looked at it. And I’ve to say additionally that watching the footage, initially just the silent footage, was one thing, however seeing it with Zain’s music and the political context and the artistry with which he edited it collectively, it brought tears to my eyes. I turned very emotional and it was a totally totally different expertise.
Dorothy: Once I first saw Zain’s piece, I assumed it was very good. I appreciated it. I don’t assume I had the identical feelings Ravi did, but I really appreciated what it added to the footage. The entire piece brought it together, and he had a unique outlook from what I did in my reminiscence. It was fascinating to see the best way he put it together and, and there’s something about his music. It just evokes emotion.
Michelle: Zain, what was your response to seeing the footage for the primary time?
Zain: You realize, for me it was the same as what Bibi describes — the sense of joy and achievement and rediscovery. That’s the best way I felt once I went to India the primary time my senior yr in undergrad, and commenced digging up these tales and writings and pictures of my grandparents — and even of my mother and father once they have been a lot youthful and simply capable of cross the India-Pakistan border. I feel there’s a two-layered sense of how it’s actually cool to seek out something private that you simply really feel related to along with a lineage that you simply’re part of. But those migration stories have been fascinating in the longer historic trajectory too. In an identical means, once I came throughout the [Dhillonn] videos, it put a number of issues into perspective for me. I grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia post-9/11. Seeing the videos made me understand — not solely are we not the first, but there were different individuals even deeper within the heartland of America who have been having the experience of being American for the first time and asking, “Do we assimilate, do we integrate, do we resist?” It really put issues into context, especially given what was occurring politically at the time that I discovered the movies. So there’s such an extended arc of historical past there, each private and on a a lot larger scale.
Michelle: Zain, why did you select to work with the Dhillonn residence films?
Zain: I keep in mind once we began the fellowship and have been simply wanting over the materials. At that moment I feel I was talking to you guys a bit bit about getting inspiration from a number of the written items or the pictures that have been within the archive. However then I came throughout the Dhillonn video. There was simply that preliminary, instinctual state of connection. Not solely is that this a story that I discover fascinating, however there are the colors, the individuals, and the best way I discovered them very lovely and fascinating to take a look at — each the family in Oklahoma after which the household that got here to the wedding. There’s simply one thing aesthetically that I really beloved concerning the texture of the supplies that was distinctive amongst all the things else I came across. It’s strange to say, nevertheless it’s virtually felt like a religious connection in a sense. Like everytime you’re going by way of materials, an enormous collection or archive, typically there’s simply that spark that emerges. In many ways it felt like a very pure fit from the beginning.
Michelle: Bibi, what was your reaction to seeing Lavaan for the primary time?
Bibi: I’m in all probability going to get emotional speaking about it, so get ready. It was simply so lovely seeing the shifting pictures of my family with music and the superimposing of the pictures within the background. I don’t even really have the phrases. I’ve watched it repeatedly, and it just feels, you mentioned the phrase religious. There’s one thing deeply, deeply inside me that obtained moved by watching it. I shared it on Fb because I needed my family and associates to see it. I’m so enthusiastic about it and I’ve watched it so many occasions and each single time I’m so moved by it. I can hear the sound in my head as a result of I’ve heard the audio so many occasions too. I by no means get uninterested in watching it. The music is admittedly lovely.
“I’ve watched it again and again, and it just feels, you mentioned the word spiritual. There’s something deeply, deeply inside me that got moved by watching it.” — Bibi Dhillonn
Zain: I was questioning, Ravi — earlier you talked about the phrase disembodiment to describe whenever you have been initially seeing some of this footage out of your private archives. My interpretation and reimagination of all that materials — how did that affect you, and that feeling you described as disembodiment?
Ravi: Properly, the politicization [of the news footage in Lavaan] produced the very opposite feeling. I felt it was nearer to residence. I felt it was more private. That disembodiment feeling of seeing myself as just a little kid, it felt like I was taking a look at a stranger, you recognize, the identical means I felt once I was wanting on the faces of my mother and father once I was seeing the wedding footage, if felt like, who’re these individuals? We were not strangers nevertheless it felt like taking a look at strangers. You stroll alongside by means of life and also you assume you understand this individual, you already know these individuals, and then you definitely see this footage and that modifications, particularly, with the backdrop of music, which in fact could be very emotional, particularly your music, that specific piece. It modifications your view.
Zain: Once I was slicing it, I was desirous about your loved ones generally. Once I received in the direction of the top of the piece, when it addresses the modern moment, I undoubtedly questioned, as someone who isn’t of Sikh background, as someone who is just not Punjabi, and someone who has not grown up in the Midwest: is this going to have an effect on individuals emotionally in a means that feels dangerous? Is it something that feels disrespectful to the traditions or to the communities?… But I also assume there are two different things: the mental, self-critical, judgment-based mind and the aesthetic, artistic thoughts. They shouldn’t be jumbled into one another and, when it comes to process, they undoubtedly shouldn’t be a tangled in with each other. However that also doesn’t imply that they should be a mutually unique a part of the method.
“I’m going to simmer on it for as long as I can and really try to just see how this video speaks to me, what it’s telling to me.” — Zain Alam
I feel a whole lot of occasions when there’s conversations about appropriation, or about stepping outdoors of one’s traditions, it tends to fall alongside a type of strains and in a really simplistic method. So for me, it was like — look, I really feel like I discovered something lovely, and I’m actually going to go as far as I can to dedicate myself to only sitting with this material for a very long time. I’m going to simmer on it for as long as I can and really try to just see how this video speaks to me, what it’s telling to me. And then accordingly build a world out of all that, that in the beginning, I discover lovely, that I find resonates with me and that hopefully by way of whatever creativity and sound I put to this, someone else will be capable of hook up with it in an analogous method, which perhaps won’t essentially be the case if they have been simply to see the complete two hours of silent footage.
After we showed that video the primary time [at the SAADA Where We Belong symposium], there was an aged Sikh lady who got here as much as me and was additionally in tears. She was the first one that I had seen after we confirmed it. She had that emotional of a reaction to it. And in my thoughts, I immediately went to each of those elements of my brain, the judgmental part — oh my God, I really screwed something up. After which the other a part of me–oh, no, she’s simply actually, deeply connecting to it. And the identical method that I felt once I first encountered the material, these two elements of my mind, of our brains as human beings, don’t have to be mutually unique. There’s a level to which these sort of questions are all the time going to be an art and never a science. I don’t want us to ever lose the magic of that.
Michelle: Prior to Bibi giving digital copies of the house films to SAADA, have you ever ever considered your family’s story as being historical past, as being essential to individuals outdoors of your loved ones?
Ravi: I have. I’ve written bits and items of it by way of my entire life. Our tales are in the long run, all we have now, really, of ourselves. Take away all the material issues, and we have now our stories. I feel it’s an important for us to know the place we came from, what issues have been like then, totally different historic contexts, and why individuals behaved in certain ways, in certain contexts and, and the way it’s totally different now.
Michelle: It’s superb to me what this report is enabling. That footage is an object and a digital object now. However what’s most essential is that it’s enabling conversations and connections between people who weren’t there earlier than. That makes the job of an archivist worthwhile.
Zain: As a musician, we now have a very common follow of remixing one track into another. And I simply actually latched onto this phrase you used, disembodiment, because typically once I hear my very own voice or my songs remixed by anyone else, initially I get that feeling of disembodiment, during which I feel — oh my God, I by no means would have heard my voice this manner or I never would have pitched it up and down. However then after some time, you determine that it is able to take on a new life in this different world that anyone else has invented. There’s virtually a sort of re-embodiment. There’s a brand new life that my voice has been capable of tackle in another person’s work. I was wondering in the event you had an identical feeling when seeing how this footage that you simply’re in — that your father and your father’s pal had created — was put into service. I have this imaginative and prescient of my own that I had with the piece.
Ravi: I had a professor who stated in writing class that when you set that poem out there, it’s not yours. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Now it’s everyone else’s.
“Seeing it as new is really beautiful.” — Ravi Dhillonn
I’m so glad that [Lavaan] is out there and that individuals are interested because in any other case it might be such a waste. And I really feel like there’s a lot extra. We might speak for days. And I feel that’s why it’s necessary to remain truthful about [our stories]. Whether or not it’s video, whether or not it’s music, whether it’s artwork [being produced with the original material], it’s not taking any of the reality away, or the originality away, it’s just taking a look at it from a new perspective and seeing that previous footage within the context of at this time. Seeing it as new is admittedly lovely.
Zain: I additionally felt similarly once I first encountered the footage. I felt that I was virtually seeing the historical past of South Asians and the story of South Asians in America utterly in another way by virtue of the truth that your videos and your family’s story push the timeline again a decade from what I had imagined. I feel this change — each the one we’re having, as well as the change of archival materials, the reuse of the previous, placing the previous into conversation with the new, to trade and to interact and to interact in a dialog — we’re virtually capable of see ourselves in new mild, despite variations of time and area. What extra are you able to ask for?
Michelle Caswell is the co-founder of SAADA and an affiliate professor of archival research within the department of data studies at UCLA.