"Ideally Indian", Types and Stereotypes in Indian Portrait Photography".

Pushpamala N, (1956, Bangalore), Bharat Sikka, (1973, New Delhi) Nandini Valli Muthiah (1976 Chennai)

25th of October - 18th of November, 2012

 

Pushpamala N.  & Bharat Sikka

Pushpamala N. & Bharat Sikka

Bharat Sikka

Bharat Sikka

Pushpamala N

Pushpamala N

Nandini Valli Muthiah

Nandini Valli Muthiah

Nandini Valli Muthiah & Bharat Sikka

Nandini Valli Muthiah & Bharat Sikka

Bharat Sikka & Pushpamala. N

Bharat Sikka & Pushpamala. N

The exhibition is curated by KONTORprojects in collaboration with Miriam Hinman Nielsen

 

Staging, humour and performance are the central elements in the exhibition "Ideally Indian, Types and Stereotypes in Indian
Portrait Photography", which presents three contemporary established and internationally recognized Indian photographers
in Denmark for the first time. The exhibition shows Bharat Sikkas poetic and staged photographs of Indian men, Nandini Valli
Muthiahs colourful and tightly composed scenarios featuring children in fancy dress as well as Pushpamala N's stylized self
portraits in which she poses as Indian female stereotypes.

 

Nandini Valli Muthiah shows selected works from the series "Remembering to forget". With this series Nandini relives the yearly Indian "Children's Day", which is traditionally celebrated in Indian schools. On this day children dress up as popular figures and historical icons. Nandini makes the children pose in their costumes in front of hand painted backdrops resembling the traditional backdrops of Indian photo studios. In fancy dress; such as policeman, angel, goddess or Batman the presence of the children contrast with the European looking city in the background and creates an altogether surreal scenario. The boy dressed up as the heroic Hindu God Hanuman from the Ramayana becomes at once the incarnation of the God and is at the same time very much himself. His slightly uncomfortable expression gives the image an ironic quality. By showing us children dressed up as their idols and heroes or perhaps rather as the figures that society and parents value, Nandini gives us an insight into the dominant ideals of Indian contemporary  society.The modern costumes such as Batman and the modern teacher suggests a decline of the classic role models of society.

 

Pushpamala N uses herself as the main performer in her photographs of Indian female stereotypes taken from historical
photographs and classic paintings. In this exhibition she shows selected works from the "The Ethnographic Series" as well
as the video works "Indian Lady" and "RKDS" (Rashtriy Kheer). In the black and white "Ethnographic Series" she performs
as the graceful and hardworking South Indian women photographed in a classic village scene – a character loved both by
Bollywood and the photographers of colonial times, who produced postcards with this type of motif. In other photographs she
poses in a setup, which mimics the anthropomorphic photographic investigations of people in the early 20th century. She lets
herself be measured and examined dressed up as a criminal woman and as the famous "Lady in Moonlight" from the classic
painting by the Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma. With these images she humorously challenges the idea of photography as a tool
for ethnographic investigations as well as the authenticity of the photographic image itself. Types and stereotypes such as the sexy film star of the 80's and the perfect self-sacrificing housewife of the 50's are part of Pushpamala Ns large gallery of women.
In the video RKDS we see her in the role as the ideal Indian housewife living in the perfect Indian family. The father is an army
man who is busy planning strategies in order to defend the nation, while she is occupied with cooking for the family. In the other
video "Indian Lady" she performs as a singing Bollywood star in front of a painted background of a city night scene. Pushpamala N´s very unique and humoristic style does reflect on how Indians have been perceived in the West but is mostly a reflection on how Indians see themselves.

 

Bharat Sikka shows four works from the series "Indian Men". The photographs are tightly composed photographs of Indian men
mostly photographed in their own home. It is unusual to see Indian men photographed in this way, and Sikka is the first Indian
photographer to create these kind of images. He produced the series after returning to India after a two year long photographic
education in New York, and perhaps it is his feeling of alienation on returning to India after such a long time, which permeates
his works. At the same time the outsider's gaze has made him able to make these men visible in a new way. The works give off
a feeling of alienation and inspire us to consider the portrayed position in society. Out of the photographers in this exhibition
Bharat Sikkas work comes closest to the personal portrait, but it is still the type of man - the guy with film star looks, the perfectionist office worker or the upper class gentleman- that we remember.

 

Even though none of these artists are directly political in their work, they all comment indirectly on the social realities that define

contemporary India and in this way they touch upon a number of topics, such as gender roles, globalization, the class/caste system and colonial history. The varied portraits in this exhibition make up an entertaining and thought provoking exhibition, which shows that Indian art photography, has an appeal far beyond India. More than anything this exhibition is a possibility to see reflective Indian photography portraying Indians produced by Indian artists, and in this way give a Danish audience an insight into how Indian artists perceive the numerous identities of their large country.

 

Text By Miriam Hinman Nielsen, curator and photographer