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San Jose Museum of Art presents exhibition of contemporary Indian photography
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Featherdot, from the series “An Indian from India—Portfolio II,” 2001. Archival pigment print, 12 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist and sepia EYE, New York.

SAN JOSE, CA.- The San Jose Museum of Art presents an exhibition of contemporary photography from India in which artists reinterpret the history of colonialism in their country. Postdate: Photography and Inherited History in India, on view February 5 through August 2, 2015, showcases the work of nine contemporary Indian artists that are breaking ground, taking history into their own hands, and redefining historical representations of India through image-making. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as early 20th-century hand-painted studio portraits, archaeological surveys created by the East India Company, and Bollywood film stills, these artists reconstruct historical iconic images of India and challenge the exoticized portrayal that has traditionally represented the country. Postdate includes more than 50 photographs as well as several videos and installation works. The exhibition features internationally renowned artists such as Gauri Gill, Jitish Kallat, and Vivan Sundaram. Also included are works by Raqs Media Collective, Nandan Ghiya, Pushpamala N., Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, and Surekha.

Photography was established commercially and artistically in India by the 1850s at the height of the British Occupation. Driven by British colonials and their compatriots’ perceptions of India as a foreign and “exotic” land, photographers (both British and Indian) focused their lenses on indigenous populations and customs; architecture and monuments; and street scenes and landscapes. Thus, historical depictions often captured images such as the Taj Mahal, decorated elephants carrying British officers, and women adorned in colorful saris walking the desert landscape.

“Aware of such historical misrepresentations, the artists in Postdate reclaim history by challenging outdated narratives, revealing hidden stories, and making personal connections with tradition while experimenting with innovative digital photographic processes, said Jodi Throckmorton, curator of contemporary art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and guest curator of the exhibition. “Postdate not only deepens our understanding of the history of photography, but celebrates new and socially engaged modes of image-making in South Asia.”


Raqs Media Collective created a multimedia installation of still photography, video, and sound entitled, The Surface of Each Day is a Different Planet (2009), which expands on the collective's work with archives and the history of Indian photography.

Nandan Ghiya addresses the effects that digital technology has had on indigenous cultures and personal identities by obscuring the faces of subjects in 19th-century, hand-painted, studio portraits. Ghiya pixelates their faces and morphs the boundaries of the image as if an error in transmission has occurred.

Gauri Gill creates large photographic portraits of people in rural Rajasthan by visiting the nomadic and migrant communities there. By photographing in black and white, Gill disrupts the established exotic portrayal of the Rajasthani people depicted in colorful magazine shots.

Vivan Sundaram explores the convergence of national and personal histories by collaborating posthumously with his grandfather through the layering of images from the family archive into single photographs. Sundaram collapsed time and space by bringing together people and places across decades, from locations in India and Europe, to create fictional scenarios.

Pushpamala N. challenges traditional representations of Indian women in photography and cinema. Part performance, part social critique, she created an album of women from South India as they have been imaged across centuries, reenacting 19th-century ethnographic portraits and 1920s film stills featuring mysterious Bollywood ingénues in her series Native Women of South India (2000-2004).

Inspired by the documentation of the building of modern Mumbai in the 1800s, Jitish Kallat creates a panoramic cityscape in Artist Makes a Call (2005) that combines multiple time frames within one image, depicting the story of rapid urban development.

Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya explore the ruins of India's first and only still camera factory, National Instruments Ltd, by photographing the remnants in the now defunct building.  The National Instruments Ltd. camera factory gave birth to the National 35, which was intended to be India’s first locally made, low-cost camera, but failed to reach wide adoption. Mitra and Bhattacharya’s series “Through a Lens Darkly” tells the story of India’s relationship with photography and uses digital technology to create an archive of images about photography’s analogue history.

In her Re-Generations, 2010, series, Annu P. Matthew excavated family albums to cull images of three generations of women and presented archival and recent photographs together in a video that collapses time and space. Fusing the faces of the past with the present, Matthew explores ideas about time and the warping of cultures over time.

Surekha’s Fragments of a Wedding Diary (2001), is a photo installation of fragmented visuals printed from found wedding photographs and negatives. Surekha questions the reality that is constructed through the act of making images, in which the subjects are removed from reality to become actors in the drama of a wedding photograph or video.

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