Viewing page 125 of 132

With examples of classic photojournalism as well as more recent investigations of diaspora life, "Out of India" was surprisingly rich in photography, a medium that has not been regarded as a signature of Indian art.

[[2 images]]
Paired postcards from Navin Rawanchaikul's installation titled from Chiang Mai on September 28, 1997, postcards, rack, telephone and audiotape. 


included old light bulbs and furniture stuffing. The diverse materials seemed to defy unifying categorization, yet they effectively evoked the lives of women and the duality of immigrant life.

Far Away from One Hundred and Eight Feet (1995) was an installation by N.N. Rimzon, who lives in Trivandrum, a city in the far south of India. The work consisted of 108 rough terra-cotta vases standing in a row, with a length of handmade rope and a straw broom protruding from each vessel. The work refers to a traditional practice in the city of Poona of forcing Untouchables to carry a pot to spit in and to sweep up after themselves so as to leave no footprints; more broadly it refers to the general ambience of old-fashioned village life, which is to be inferred atmospherically, as it were, from the sheer repeated presence of the terra-cotta vases and the ancient-looking earthy materials issuing from them. The work's broader, international reference lies in the installation genre itself, with its associations of nonverbal intercultural communication. This series of expanding contexts-specific location, region, international network- allows it to remain rooted in its own location while still reaching out to the rest of the world.

In addition to installations, "Out of India" was surprisingly rich in photography, a medium that has not been regarded as a signature of Indian art. The range of examples on view, however, was enormous, from the classic photojournalism of the 1930s and '40s by Homai Vyarawalla (based in the state of Gujurat, the 85-year-old Vyarawalla was India's first professional woman photographer) to the ironic variations on it by New Delhian Satish Sharma in the last decade; from New Delhian Dayanita Singh's photographs of wealthy and largely Westernized Indian families to the elegant conceptual project Album Pacifica (1997) by Mohini Chandra, who lives in London. While Vyarawalla's photographs of national leaders and political events such as Gandhi's funeral were involved with the formation of national identity, Sharma's tend to question that identity through somewhat ironic contextualizations of political posters and effigies of politicians. Singh's wealthy Indians viewed en famille at self-conscious leisure open a new lens on the culture, depicting an Indianness that is both despiritualized without pathos, displaying neither mystical exaltation nor social tragedy. Chandra traveled the path of the diaspora, seeking out family members from Fiji to the United States and collecting old family photographs from them; these are exhibited with their backs outward, showing not the pictures but the notations, such as names and dates and occasional remarks, which someone who cared added to them once. They simultaneously trace the dispersion of family members in the diaspora and the persistence of family feelings, with the nostalgic poignancy of the pressed flower from long ago.

Much of the work in the show, especially the photography, deals directly with the theme of diaspora. London resident Shaheen Merali's Going Native (1992) consists in part of slide projections of Indians adopting the ways of a new environment in England; the transition is seen as a perilous one, an act of daring self-abandonment that is metaphorically represented in a photograph of a young Indian boy standing, apparently frightened and hesitant, on the edge of a high-diving platform. Pablo Bartholemew, who lives in New Delhi, shows diaspora Indians not abandoning but clinging to their inherited ways in the haunting photograph South Asian Muslims Pray during Id at Corona Park, Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York (1988). Here, the global icon of the unisphere from the 1939 World's Fair presides over the non-Western practice of prostration, implying at once the global scale of the Indian diaspora, the persistence of cultural conditioning among far-separated diasporic groups, and the traditional hollowness of Western pretensions toward globalism, as in the concept of a "world's" fair.

[[image]]
One of 100 photograph backs in Mohini Chandra's Album Pacifica, 1997, each approx. 10 by 8 inches.


Navin Rawanchaikul, who divides his time between Thailand and Japan, organized a mail-art project involving postcards sent to the Queens Museum by Indian migrants in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Carrying brief messages about the quality of the immigrants' lives, the postcards, each identified by the number, were displayed on a Plexiglas shelf running around one of the galleries. By punching in the posted numbers on a telephone included in the installation visitors could listen to English translations of the message on the postcards. Rawanchaikul's installation is related visually to classic mail-art predecessors of the 1970s such as On Kawara's I Woke Up, but, unlike the universalization of Kawara's work, which involves the repetition of an experience that has no ethnic or cultural boundaries, the messages from Chiang Mai are bound to the homeland by the persistence of feelings of community in diasporic situations. One card which says, in English, "We are happy in our group (India group)," embodies these polarities. The card is framed with another


One of 18 photo-etchings from Vijay Kumar's India Portfolio, 1993, 12 by 16 inches.
[[image]]
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact transcribe@si.edu.