"Dual Intent" represents the peculiarity and uncertainty of living on an almost-immigrant status in the United States. Drawing heavily upon my experience as a spouse living on an H-4 visa, it traces everyday manifestations of the duality of belonging and alienation for families living here in the United States on this visa category.

This work literalizes the human being as a palimpsest of identities. The nesting doll is used as the primary motif to indicate layering of identities. As we move through life, we both assimilate into as well as change our surroundings. Three nesting dolls split across four panels are meant to represent this very phenomenon.

The work also uses paper—specifically old calendars, printed portions of my own H-4 visa, parts of a legal, visa-related notice and sheet music. I have layered these elements in the second and third panels to historicize and recreate the mounting intensity of experience as families wait to be accepted as permanent residents of the United States.

To shape the first doll, I have used the back of an old Telugu calendar. These sections of a regional calendar often have horoscopes for the year, household tips and tricks, as well as common cultural wisdom. In so doing, I am invoking both time and culture and the ways in which personal identity is inextricably linked to both.

In contrast, the largest doll, occupying the two center panels, is nearly opaque, with motifs clearly painted onto its surface. On this doll, I have used rice stalks to trace affinities between two disparate cultures—that of Andhra Pradesh, the state where I was born and grew up, and that of Arkansas, the state that I now call home. Despite their many and obvious differences, rice is the state crop of both states and finds place in the state seal of Andhra Pradesh and the state coin design of Arkansas. I find this idea of food as connector and separator incredibly fascinating.

The “face” of the main nesting doll is a cut-out of the sections of the H-4 visa that come to define and limit life for an individual. This representation is meant to convey the facelessness and loss of identity that come with the process of waiting for a more permanent status in the United States.

The background of the two central panels is made up of images transferred to canvas including a legal notice about visa formalities and sheet music to The Star Spangled Banner on Panel 2 and to Jana Gana Mana, India’s national anthem on Panel 3.

Finally, the smallest doll remains white and un-painted as a representation of possibility. My one-year-old daughter’s footprint on the final panel is meant to convey a sense of hope and the dream of a brighter, possibility-filled future that brings so many families to the United States today.


AISHWARYA holds a Master of Arts in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She is academically and artistically interested in identity creation and manifestation in a changing global world. Primarily a wordsmith, this is her first foray into visual art.


  • Title: Dual Intent
  • Creator: Aishwarya
  • Date: 2013
  • Physical Dimensions: 2' x 2'
  • Medium: Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas

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