This collage explores legitimacy, uncertainty, and be/longing and is inspired by the 1434 Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck (below). Referring to the Anglo-Indian community’s often hidden origins, Kathleen Cassity describes “the extent to which [ it] is originally of “legitimate” or “illegitimate” paternity” as a controversial and sensitive issue. Her words remind me of being asked (as an Anglo-Indian) “what’s it like to be the product of rape?” and, another time, in response saying that I have Indian heritage, “Are you sure?” which provides the title. These are maybe extreme examples but show the lack of historical awareness that many mixed-race people are used to encountering.
Van Eyck’s painting has been read as a visual marriage contract with allegorical references to purity, fertility, and faithfulness. But more recently these certainties have been questioned.
In Are You Sure? the central mirror has been replaced with coinage including the gold star pagoda which was paid as financial incentive by the East India Company in the 18th century to encourage marriages between its British employees and Indian women to consolidate its position in the Sub-Continent.
The Wizard of Oz is another influence, referenced by the emerald green of the woman’s (bridal?) dress and the ruby slippers on the left-hand side. Salman Rushdie has argued that to many migrants from Commonwealth countries, England seemed as wonderful and then fraudulent, as the wizard in the Emerald City.