In Vishal Jugdeo’s second presentation at Commonwealth and Council, the artist premiers the first episode of Caribbean Television, a project delving into the legacies of colonialism and indentureship in Guyana, drawing in this instance, from the artist’s family history. The single channel-video, Deo’s Moon employs the artist’s signature multifarious storytelling, laying bare the shifting subjectivities and power dynamics of the filmmaker and the film’s participants. In it, Jugdeo wrestles with myths and traumas accumulated against the backdrop of Guyana, whose histories and divided cultures have formed its own latticed identity, alongside and despite, dominant global narratives.
Filmed with an uneasy gaze, along Guyana’s rivers and shorelines, in markets and bars, Jugdeo seeks understanding and comfort in a place that is both foreign and familiar. The artist’s uncle Deo—a storied man of politics and culture—acts as docent, guiding Jugdeo and the viewer through histories, songs, and nightlife, only later revealing his own agenda. Jugdeo and his cousins, Shalini and Dharani, strive to make sense of their own queerness through their Caribbean lineage while debating the very ethics of Jugdeo’s work. To what extent can the exchange between filmmaker and subject be mutually beneficial? Do the subjects feel exploited? Or seen? Is the filmmaker a native informant? Or is he the steward of an archive of untold stories?
In laying out and embracing these contradictory feelings and ideas, Jugdeo eschews traditional narrative structures and resolutions in favor of a syncopated Caribbean rhythm. As images and ideas switchback and wind, truths and realities shift both for the filmmaker and his subjects: cruising becomes a mechanism of ethnography and binding social contracts are born from family lies. All the while, Guyana acts as the ultimate enigma, evading and muddying assumptions of race, class, and gender. Untethered from such bonds, perhaps the queer, diasporic gaze offers a way to make sense of the seemingly ineluctable cycles of trauma.
Screenings at the top of the hour
Vishal Jugdeo (b. 1979, Regina; lives and works in Los Angeles) received an MFA from University of California, Los Angeles (2007) and a BFA from Simon Fraser University, Burnaby (2003). Jugdeo is faculty in the Department of Art at University of California, Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions have been held at Commonwealth and Council (2021); 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica (2016); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2014); LAXART (2008); and Western Front, Vancouver (2005). Selected group exhibitions have been held at Performa 13, New York (2013); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2012); and Orange County Museum of Art (2010). Jugdeo is a recipient of Canada Council for the Arts Grants (2023, 2020), Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2015), California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2013), and Art Matters Foundation Grant (2012). He has participated in residencies at MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire (2018); BOFFO, Fire Island (2016); and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2005).
Jugdeo’s work is in the collection of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.