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Home » Moving Still: Performative Photography in India

Moving Still: Performative Photography in India

by Meredith Areskoug
Pushpamala N, Sunhere Sapne (Golden Dreams), 1998, hand-tinted black-and-white photograph. Shumita and Arani Bose Collection, NY
Capture Photography Festival

VANCOUVER ART GALLERY, Vancouver BC – April 19 – Sep 2

by Michael Turner

Featuring more than 100 works from mid-19th-century India to the present, Moving Still explores themes of gender, sexuality, class and religion through the ascendant, digitizing medium of photography. As with The Polygon Gallery’s 2018 Persepolis exhibition, where the excavation of Iran’s classical past was documented by the means that carried it into modernity, Moving Still provides what VAG director Kathleen Bartels refers to as “a fascinating narrative of the artistic impact and influences across three generations of artists who turn the camera onto themselves in ground-breaking ways.”

Chronologically, Moving Still begins in the major Indian cities of Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras, where the French-invented camera and its photographs were first discussed and exhibited. Key practitioners include Sawai Ram Singh II, the maharaja of Jaipur from 1835 to 1880, also known as India’s fi rst “Photographer Prince.” Another is Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, whose self-portraits feature a solitary (if not symbolist) figure engaged in interior spiritual activities like reading, writing and yoga, what historians have referred to as an early attempt at promoting a distinct international Indian subject.

More recently, the exhibition highlights the work of Vivan Sundaram, the grandson of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, who digitized and montaged his grandfather’s photo archive to create an alternative family history; Pushpamala N, whose photo series Sunhere Sapne (Golden Dreams) (1998) revolves around the artist as a stereotypical middle-class housewife and her fantasy alter-ego (a wealthy socialite) in a parody of the post-independence Indian family; and Sunil Gupta, whose Sun City (2011) follows the life of an HIV-positive gay man and the personal and political implications he experienced while living between England and India.

Artist talks April 20 and 27, 3pm

Annual Heller Lecture May 15

vanartgallery.bc.ca