I think I know who you are Exhibition / Art Installation


NameI think I know who you are
Start Date16 July 1999
End Date15 August 1999
Names of ArtistsBepen Bhana, Mandrika Rupa, Sanjay Theodore, Shruti Yatri
CuratorRebecca Lal
Organiser / VenueLopdell House Gallery
ArtformVisual arts
CityTāmaki Makaurau Auckland


I think I know who you are was an exhibition at Lopdell House Gallery from 16 July to 15 August 1999. It was curated by Rebecca Lal and included the work of Bepen Bhana, Mandrika Rupa, Sanjay Theodore and Shruti Yatri. As Lal puts it in the exhibition catalogue, the reason for putting this exhibition together was to consider perspectives of artists of Indian descent in Aotearoa and “bring their work together in one space and to consider it both individually and cumulatively”.

Bepen Bhana (then going by Bepen), presented a series of digital images printed on boards titled 4² Triptych — Parts I, II, III — in which he redesigned the quintessential Kiwi icon, Mr Four Square, depicting him with markers of religious faiths common in South Asian countries, such as tilaks, bindis, and caste markers. One wears a turban, another holds Lord Shiva's sceptre, and another with brown skin leans forward with his hands in front of him and palms touching.

He also presented three animatronic figures titled NahasapeemapetilonTriptych, transforming Mrs Claus dolls into figures with brown skin and South Asian garments. These figures wiggled while holding a tomato sauce bottle, a reference to reductive representations like that of a Wattie's television advertisement from the '90s that was created to sell spiced versions of their original tomato sauce.

Filmmaker Mandrika Rupa screened her documentary Poonam (1994), which follows three women whose families immigrated to Aotearoa as early as the 1890s, and two short films — Naya Zamana (1996) and Laxmi (2000) — which explored the intersection of cultures in the homes of Indian New Zealanders. Set in 1942, during WWII, when US soldiers were stationed in Aotearoa, Laxmi is seen through the eyes of a primary school-aged girl observing the adults in her house. In Naya Zamana, a young woman traverses the challenges of familial and cultural expectations.

Sanjay Theodore’s series of abstract paintings used a select colour palette of greys, blues, golds, purples and black. Rounded, square and rectangular shapes in On the Island, Song for Lindy, Silver and Jesus, see Theodore experiment with the symmetry of each composition. In Portrait of Theo Ray the simple combination of white and lilac are used to create distinct line and colour gradients. A distinguishable feature of the painting is created with two nails and a rubber band that meet at a small charcoal dot, creating an anchor point.

Shruti Yatri’s series of three untitled paintings on board use the repeated motif of a ginkgo leaf. The leaves are depicted in an exploration of monochromatic cool colours and scaled so large that their stems meet the bottom of the frame, and their edges meet the sides and top. These works originate from a travel notebook that the artist kept during his time in New York, where he collected many kinds of leaves — choosing this particular one as a specimen, not native to the land where it was found, but thriving nonetheless.

As stated by Lal, the Wattie’s advertisement that Bhana challenged in his artwork was “The first central Indian character to appear in mainstream media” in Aotearoa, some 100 years after the first Indian migrants came to this country. Unsurprisingly, this caricature of an Indian outraged much of the Indian population. However, the larger outrage came from other New Zealanders who felt that having an Indian dairy owner be at the centre of an advertisement of a quintessentially Kiwi brand was a betrayal to the nationhood that Wattie’s represented. This advertisement and its public response exemplified the cultural exclusivity and racial stereotyping that was rife in Aotearoa at the time. In direct contrast to this, I think I know who you are showcased the varied interests and backgrounds of these particular artists, acknowledging the individuality that has stemmed from these cultural communities.

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Light blue book cover with thin white text

I think i know who you are exhibition catalogue

Catalogue designed by Robert Sly

[pdf ↓]