Darshana Bolt with one her favourite works depicting a feisty street kid. Photograph: Miranda Glasser
Dreams, observations and ghost stories are the inspiration behind Darshana Bolt’s new exhibition, Red Dust Lullabye, which comprises over 80 drawings and paintings created during the last five months since the artist moved to town.
The exhibition is at Hotel 1961 and the website says the work is, “A visual record of the artist digesting and being digested by a new universe (literally—her recurring intestinal parasites alongside the conflicted idea of western tourists as hedonistic parasites made for a lot of inspiration!)”
Hotel 1961 owner and curator Loven Ramos describes the collection as, “Her personal journey in a completely different land. I relate to how she finds things really amusing, quirky and life-changing. It’s her perceptions of Siem Reap, of Asia as a whole – the clash of cultures and also that she is a highly unique individual and to be able to immerse herself in something as mind-blowing as Cambodia, there are so many fireworks ongoing from that.
“So the theme is all about changing your perceptions and really finding your little space of the universe in the most unlikely of places.”
Having sung in a punk band for four years in her native US, many of the pictures are linked to self-penned song lyrics, such as one of Bolt’s favourite pieces, I Don’t Want Your Good Luck, an acrylic on canvas depicting a sorrowful-looking girl with the titular words painted large around her.
Bolt explains the story behind this painting, an encounter with a street child in Siem Reap.
“I was sitting sketching, and this little girl came up to me. She asked what I was drawing and we were having a perfectly nice conversation until it came out that I didn’t have any money and didn’t want to buy anything. I wished her good luck and she said, ‘I don’t want your good luck!’ and went storming off.
“So it’s sort of about the different faces that people give. Actually the song that I wrote about it compares her to Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady as this flower girl.
“I’m admiring that feistiness – she’s got a strong spirit you can see coming through. A lot of it’s about my feeling conflicted as someone who has never been able to afford to travel before, being in a context where I have this self-image as an American. The way that I view my country is really negative, sort of parasitic. So it’s just a complicated reaction to seeing those relationships. There’s gold in a lot of the pieces, and it’s connected with that white guilt that comes out.”
The collection is varied – ranging from pen and ink, comic book style drawings to bold paintings done on colourful fabric stretched over canvas. Some paintings have mixed materials and different textures such as tiny gold sequins representing fish scales.
“I did a series of paintings of monks on this orange fabric,” Bolt says.
“I have a friend here who’s in a complicated position. His family life is really bad and then he got sort of conscripted into being a monk when he was 14, and ended up really wanting to go to school and lead more of a secular life. So I’ve done some portraits of him.”
Another picture depicts the outline of a terrified girl sitting up in bed with covers pulled up to her chin, sketched on a Minnie Mouse-patterned bed sheet. The result is powerfully eerie. The canvas, Bolt confirms, is an actual bed sheet from her landlady.
“They gave me these really bizarre Mickey and Minnie sheets and it just tied in to me thinking, ‘oh all these crazy things are happening in my life’.”
As for the name Red Dust Lullabye, this comes from the title of a song Bolt wrote.
“The first verse came to me in a dream that I had here. It was this kind of mystical experience, like a vision. It’s about frustrated intentions and the dust of Siem Reap that’s all over everything. The song is a lullaby to a girl and it’s saying, ‘You’ll never wear a schoolgirl’s skirt, you’ll only cover it in dirt,’ so I guess it’s about talking to different people here and being able to realise what they want to do.
“Even though I’ve had a lot of exhibitions before, I’m more excited about this one than I ever have been because I’m in a new place and these pictures are all really meaningful to me. They’re all my reactions to being here and having this new life. It’s really exciting for me.”