Preetika Rajgariah’s exhibition “Pleasure Tense” offers a delicate layered inquiry into the connections between touch, texture, and selfhood. The artist collages family and community-sourced saris onto recycled yoga mats to create, according to the show’s press release, a form of “pleasure centered” queer self-portraiture that defies the othering gaze of the white heterosexual patriarchy. Most of the saris Rajgariah uses are thin and translucent, and from afar have a paint-like quality. Yet the artworks demand our scrutiny to reveal their distinct textures and surfaces. The artist’s physical presence is everywhere in these objects—after all, yoga mats, in their everyday use, are meant to be touched. But despite this sense of intimacy, viewers will be compelled to negotiate their distance before these images.
The yoga mats are turned into canvases—traditional Western devices for rendering pictorial space that forces the spectator to take in the work at a critical remove. Moreover, these types of mats—created in the early 1980s by an Englishwoman named Angela Farmer—are commercialized mementos of the more than five-thousand-year-old cultural practice. Rajgariah also challenges the temptation to feel the various sari textures by the fact that her queer body, ecstatic and often unabashedly nude, is the only compositional element collaged with the fabric. The desire to touch the delicate saris is both seductive and destructive, as the 2022 self-portrait you are the master of your judgements, your decisions, and your actions—where the artist depicts her disembodied hands gently holding or tearing apart food at a dinner table—playfully but forcefully indicates. Rajgariah’s bindi-covered mirrors complicate things even further: Her mother used to leave behind her bindis on a mirror in her home from fear of being judged by her predominantly white neighbors in Texas. To see oneself reflected in these surfaces could either be consoling or discomforting, depending on who you are.
Rajgriah’s presentation is a reminder that the act of reclaiming one’s identity and embracing one’s sexuality is a never a straightforward path. It is a journey entangled with the material histories of the body, sundry cultural narratives, and the imperial gaze.