The idea of “difference” lies at the very core of subjectivity and phenomenology. It is through difference alone and consequently the existence of an “other” that the very notion of self is constructed. The constitution of the other, fundamentally different from the self, is what imparts any meaning to selfhood, which is to say, what we know ourselves to be is precisely the difference from that which is not us. This idea in turn has substantial implications for all of humanity and the society we live in. It is this difference that creates the binaries of gender, race and ethnicity. The “othering” of people in geopolitical and societal spaces creates the fundamental antagonisms of our world. But there is a catch here. A nuance which is often missed by narratives, often intentionally, of discrimination. It may be that difference is foundational to the self, but difference, in no way necessitates antagonism. It is this nuanced conception of difference that has inspired my sculpture “Delusion of Difference”.
If we may borrow from postmodern theory, our perception of the world is always already a delusion. Reality is inherently marred by our subjective gaze, since there can be objective experience of reality. The frame of the elephant in the sculpture juxtaposes symbols of childhood innocence and dreams with those of violence and warfare. Both of those inhabit the same reality whether we may want to acknowledge it or not. Peaceful clouds drifting across a clear sky and the mushroom cloud of total annihilation, both exist in the same reality. The question at hand is not whether differences among individuals, communities, and cultures exist; it is how we perceive these differences that matters and is of monumental importance.
Throughout most of our recent history, this very idea of difference has been used to elicit a sentiment of antagonism. Be it ideas of fundamentalist persuasions, or the colonial binary of the orient and the occident, difference has systematically been used with a subtext of antagonism. This is perhaps the grandest delusion of our species. It is counterproductive to the very growth of our species if we continue down a very parochial understanding of our surroundings, since if we probe far enough, someone identical to us along any number of social signifiers is still different from us.
Difference is essential to humanity. There can be no civilization of identical machines that think the same way, feel the same way, and react to everything identically. In such a world, there can be no art or spark of invention. The final piece, at the center of the sculpture, is a gyroscope, signifying the need for harmony in our lives; as individuals, and as a society. In order to truly lead a harmonious life and construct a better and brighter future for the generations to come, we must not only acknowledge the essentiality of our differences, but also embrace and celebrate them.
Sonal Ambani’s Solo Sculpture Show “Transcendental Time” can be experienced at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity in Kolkata, India.
Photographs by Amar Ambani.