On Belonging

Collaborative projects by Lois Bielefeld and Nirmal Raja

In response to increasing racial polarity in the United States, Nirmal Raja and Lois Bielefeld have launched two collaborative projects exploring identity, place, and belonging. While one project examines the role of costume and our visual understanding of race, the other questions the veracity of recorded history and our attempts to contend with it.

Reaching through 5 ½ yards | Reaching Across 8497 miles

Fifty Archival pigment prints (37.5x50”)

Raja moved to the United States 28 years ago while Bielefeld is a Milwaukee native. Recent political events of the Trump era have given voice to xenophobia and racism compelling the two artists to examine how initial perception of the ‘other’ occurs. People innately categorize and stereotype. Costume plays a large part in the recognition of identity. Raja has amassed over 150 saris as they are an integral part of her culture, but living in Milwaukee she rarely wears them due to both internalized social pressures and practicality. She is now wearing the sari as an act of resistance against conformity and reclaiming the right to look different and yet belong.  While wearing one of her barely used saris, she traverses Milwaukee’s urban landscape as Bielefeld documents her movement. They have photographed in both mundane and landmark locations and also at quintessential Milwaukee events such as the Wisconsin State Fair. Part social experiment and part performance, the work has become a statement of occupying space in a town where Raja has only felt superficially at home. This body of work brings together Bielefeld’s innate understanding of the Midwest with Raja’s efforts to understand the city.