This project, The Coalition, was born out of a desire to take control. As a woman of color living in Seattle, my body is used as a vessel built to contain narratives that were decided about me long before I existed, narratives born of the colonial white gaze. My skin and heritage, not being as polarizing or immediately political as the skin of my Hispanic and Black sisters, grants me access to a white world, where I am coveted as an exotic and cultured possession. Strangers approach me at openings, not to discuss my work, rather to discuss their own experiences with India and Indian culture, to discuss their love of my people, the girl they dated who looked like me. They are drawn to my mysterious otherness, the magical key that my people hold to spirituality and enlightenment.
But this pass as an object of desire into ‘liberal’ white circles comes at a price. My role is narrow, my
movements and opinions limited. My main objective is to listen, smile, and nod, and to carry my
brownness deep inside my body, where it is tucked away and can be forgotten. I am meant to bring it
out at the request of my white beholders, to appease and entertain them with small, digestible doses of my culture and ethnicity.
In this exchange, I receive the opportunities that come with my ability to move in white circles, and in
return, my white counterparts get to reinforce their beliefs that, through their acceptance of my brown
skin, they are as progressive as they claim to be, different than their parents, that they are, truly and
But I have seen the other side of this encounter. I have seen what happens when I do more than nod
and smile, when I begin to talk about my experiences, my culture, and my life in a way that does not
suit the white narrative. I have seen how quickly my exoticized body becomes a polarizing one — how
often my words, no matter how reasonable, are labeled as aggressive, judgmental, and of course,
‘racist.’ In arguments about brown bodies, my experience of having lived in one all my life is not seen
as a credential — it is seen as an emotional burden that blinds me from the white centric truth.
I have seen so many self-proclaimed white progressives take off their masks and become their
parents, their grandparents. I have seen them step out of their costumes and don the garb of their
legacy. People I have trusted. People I have loved. People who loved my colonized body back, but
people whose love quickly ran dry when faced with my radicalized mind.
This betrayal, every time it happens, no matter how often it happens, cuts deep. And just as their
desperation to cling to their power is their legacy, my pain is mine. And sometimes, I can’t help but
wonder if things were simpler, better, when I did not know the difference between the white gaze and
my own. When I was grateful to have access to white circles at all, grateful to have a role to play.
How simple would it be to let my tongue sit heavy in my mouth, my lips spread wide against my skin in
a close-mouthed smile. How easy would it be to demand and to want exactly what the white gaze
gives me. How painless would it be to be an object that is looked at, talked around, but ultimately
The Coalition is an attempt to find out.
--Satpreet Kahlon, 2016
Satpreet Kahlon is an artist and educator who is currently based in Seattle, WA. With two BFAs (one in Studio Art, the other in Art Education), Satpreet hopes to serve as an advocate for positive social change within her community, both as an artist and as an educator.
Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA, the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography in Cape Town, and Tipton Gallery in Johnson City, TN. She is currently the ArtBridge Fellow at Pratt Fine Arts Center, and has been the recipient of many awards, including a Windgate Fellowship to attend Penland School of Craft and an Individual Artist Grant from 4Culture.
She currently lives in Seattle, where she makes conceptually driven work, while simultaneously working as a teaching artist at the Seattle Art Museum.
The name Project Diana comes from a 1946 NASA mission that projected radio waves into space. These waves broke through the ionosphere, echoed off the moon and then returned to Earth.