My recent series American Made is a visual mediation of my experiences within the predominant Indian and American cultures, as well as their respective subcultures. In each piece, I recontextualize written language, consumer goods, or national emblems in order to examine their commonalities and distinctions. For example, I have created typographic posters that contain both English and Hindi word-forms; sculptural objects that combine baseball and cricket bats; and eating utensils that are magnetized to one another. American Made illustrates the complex nature of my multicultural experience and directs the viewer to reflect on their own, simply by examining the objects and languages they surround themselves with daily.
Curiosity animates Shahid Khan’s practice. “I typically start with a learning process,” he explains of Fork-chops, a magnetized wood object that marries two types of eating utensils. “I was really interested in learning joinery, and I wanted to make chopsticks. I make a lot of functional things.” Trained in glassblowing, Khan is keenly aware of utility. His work—ranging from furniture to unlikely combinations, both object-based and linguistic—plays with permutations in the perception of use. For example, Khan’s Pop is not a vessel for drinking but two halves of brand-name soda bottles that encircle panes of glass; his screenprints meld characteristics of Hindi and English lettering as they urge viewers to speak “American.”
The suggestion of utility engenders the impulse to categorize—but why? Khan’s objects raise more questions than they answer, and that may just be the point: with too ready a resolution, we foreclose on possibility. What is the difference, Khan’s work asks, between multivalence and ambivalence? Why do we talk about the unknown in negative terms? Confusion is often framed as an aberration in the otherwise seamless process of communication. But what if it’s the end goal—or, at the very least, a pretty good place to wind up along the way? If we stay alert, Khan’s work reminds us, misidentification is useful. After all, don’t I foreclose upon myself as a viewer if I fail to remain curious?