Meet Priya Namana, Master of Contemporary Art student at the University of Melbourne

Priya Namana, Master of Contemporary Art student. Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Priya Namana, Master of Contemporary Art student. Photo by Giulia McGauran.

After moving to Melbourne to pursue design, Priya Namana found herself increasingly frustrated at the socio-political climate around her. She talks about how she found a constructive space for expression in a Master of Contemporary Art at the Victorian College of the Arts.

I’m in my final year of the Master of Contemporary Art at the VCA. I’m a video artist working in a place where image, sound, performance and installations intersect.

Behind me [main image] is a work I made in 2018 called Digital intimacy – a new ecology. It’s a video work with a sound-based installation done through field recordings. I was analysing the concept of fragmentation of self, when we steer away from a singular point, particularly through the lens of the feminine, and placing the objectivity of a camera in that perspective.

I am very excited by the psychology of image and sound as sensory modes for receiving information, and how they offer counterpoints to our perception at any given point of time and space. The negative space and the physics of silence around the intersection of these ideas is exhilarating for me. I aim to investigate, to find the tools and language around the fracturing of these frames with the view to arriving at a singular point or moment, and then to cycle back again.

It was a strange, winding road for me to arrive at truly wanting to wear the title of “artist”. It was riddled with all that comes with meandering through predominantly white spaces that feel exclusive, especially in institutions, which often feel stifling for this reason. I have always been very politically charged and responsive, so I’ve naturally been anti-institution for a while.

Though I have always wanted to study art, I never had the opportunity to, as it felt quite inaccessible growing up in India. I migrated to Australia to study design. Through witnessing and experiencing different forms of prejudice so personally here, I felt the urgent need to respond to the attitudes revolving around race, class and gender. Free artistic expression became a high priority in order to find survival strategies and ways of navigating the world in general.

From the outside, conceptual practices appear to be exclusive, in that they are predominantly occupied by a male, white presence. I fit into neither category. By understanding and accepting that my framework and output was a highly conceptual one, somehow and somewhere along the way the urgency shifted to making myself visible in this space where it seemed like I didn’t belong, and confronting that discomfort.

Once all that became clear, I decided to dip my toes back in through a Graduate Certificate in Visual Art. The staff in this course, who are all practising artists, were so active in instigating change, open to their own vulnerabilities, and deeply thoughtful and supportive, that I was convinced to continue to build my practice at the VCA through further study.

I came to the VCA with no expectations, but my time has been spacious, responsive, rigorous, and insightful. The conversations with my peers and mentors have been inspiring and I am so infinitely amazed at how present and supportive everyone is in every interaction with technicians, supervisors and lecturers. For the number of students being attended to, I am constantly in awe of how much I take away personally. With all of this support, I am further developing a very personal language and learning to communicate with the world effectively and accurately.

I would like to keep making strong, considered and engaging works while finding ways to share them that sit comfortably within my political framework. I want to continue distilling it all into a clear unified voice and to be genuinely present with my ideas.

This may or may not be useful, but my advice to others considering studying at the VCA is to be curious, tenacious and open to changing – so that something new can happen to you and your ideas. Learn how to make considered marks and stay connected and engaged with the broader community outside your artistic practice. And ready your stamina for endurance!