Rajiv Menon Contemporary

Item Number

The inaugural exhibition by

Rajiv menon contemporary

November 9-18, 2023

Public opening november 9th, 

6-9 PM

3110 W. Sunset Blvd.

Los Angeles CA 90026

In South Asian Cinema, the item number is a unique type of song-and-dance scene. Usually featuring a woman performing to a high tempo, sexy track, the scene typically has little to do with the rest of the film. More often than not, the protagonist of the item number never appears again. The item number exists, in filmi parlance, to add a bit of masala, but is never the whole meal. It is ultimately subordinate and minor when compared to the rest of the film.

Work by South Asian artists is often treated the same way in the western world. In these contexts, art with origins in the subcontinent appears as novel, sensual, and above all else, exotic, but is ultimately just a detour from more significant aesthetic geographies. Here, it is one of many different types of numbered item: an artifact, commodity, or a token.

And yet, despite its marginality-by-design, the item number is often the most memorable part of a film. In these scenes, characters are often subversive, cheeky, and rebellious. These moments are iconic in diasporic and queer circles, where item numbers’ unabashed commitment to pleasure and excess is a necessary challenge to the oppressive conditions of everyday life. A type of performance seemingly rooted in objectification emerges as something much more challenging and provocative.

ITEM NUMBER, the inaugural show by Rajiv Menon Contemporary, explores this dynamic through a groundbreaking survey of South Asian artists working in the western world. The artists in this exhibition reclaim the concept of the exotic, locating a source of defiance and empowerment. Across painting, textile and mixed media, the works in ITEM NUMBER boldly reimagine the visual vocabulary of objectification and foreignness, finding modes of expression that mark the arrival of a confident cohort of South Asian voices.