Selections from the Projects series (1997-2001) by performance photographer Nikki S. Lee.
Integrating herself into various ethnic and social groups, Lee explores the nature of identity and practices of representation through these seemingly casual photographs. Comparing Lee’s work to Cindy Sherman’s performance photography, Sylvia Kwon writes for the Asian American Writers Workshop:
Where Sherman distorts, Lee is a more clandestine participant. In Projects, Lee engrafts herself into ethnic as well as social groups; at her best she is a deft chameleon. Part of Lee’s success derives from her surrounding cast, the very community into which she seeks entrance. Lee always reveals her artistic intent before she joins a group’s gatherings and adopts its practices; an acquaintance then takes the photo. “The work I do always needs to involves others,” she explained in an interview with The Creators Project. “I realized I couldn’t understand who I am without the people around me.” In Lee’s photos, the artist appears as though she has actually experienced another life…
While I am a fan of Sherman’s work as well, Lee’s unique techniques are especially interesting. Though simple and informal, these photographs provide incisive commentary on race, gender, and class, demonstrating the depth and significance of Lee’s artistic vision.
What a huge loss. I’m a huge fan of Dasgupta’s work and his successful balance of commercial and artistic appeal.
Lakshmi Menon x Elephant Love
Pushpamala N, Abduction/Apaharana (2009)
Pushpamala, one of my favorite contemporary Indian artists, is best known for her earlier Ethnographic Series. This take on the Ramayana brings Pushpamala’s exaggerated sense of drama to explore questions of gender and storytelling.Discussing Pushpamala’s performance photography for the National Portrait Gallery of Canberra, Ajay Sinha writes:
In the ‘Wilderness’ chapter of the Indian epic Ramayana, Sita, the pinnacle of feminine virtue, yields briefly to temptation and is abducted by Ravana. Pushpamala seizes this moment and elaborates on it, playing the role of Rama’s demure wife swept away by the demon. High action unfolds in meticulously designed tableaux, recalling the proscenium-framed settings of late nineteenth and twentieth-century Parsi and Kannada theatres. Mist, symbolising dreams and illusions in theatre and film, engulfs the actors. Against faintly visible Arcadian landscapes and golden architecture, Ravana and Sita take on the melodramatic poses of comic-book characters such as Chandamama and Amar Chitra Katha.
One of the most striking differences between this series and Pushpamala’s prior photo-performances is the large size of the photographs (approx. 1 x 1.5 metres). They recall history paintings, and the use of ornate gold frames brings to mind mythological scenes occupying ceilings and overdoors in Baroque and Rococo interiors. And yet, while the genre reference transports the scenarios to a remote story-land, the images also reflect the artist’s body as if in a life-size mirror and thereby address us somatically.
A selection of photographs from the final roll of kodachrome taken by Steve McCurry and published in Vanity Fair. Partially taken in India, these photographs range in subject from Bollywood actors and writers to members of the Rabari community.
Tehran Remixed (2005), a multimedia photographic series by Amirali Ghasemi that explores Tehran’s underground scene and youth culture.
In the series Tehran Remixed Amirali Ghasemi shows young urban Iranians socializing, their faces and other areas of exposed skin blanked out to protect their identities. The social activities depicted seem as though they could be happening in any city around the world. Yet the fact that the identities of the participants in these seemingly ordinary acts must be so starkly concealed underscores how specific the situation is to Iran.
As part of the Art of the Trench project, Burberry captured a series of street style photographs in Mumbai and New Delhi to celebrate their signature coat. The photographs, which include shots of Neha Dhupia and Dino Morea, are part of an exhibit commemorating the opening of a new Burberry store in Gurgaon.
Arif Mahmood. Chalk Footsteps in Mithadar, 1998.
Featured in the Asia Society’s exhibit Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan, Karachi-based artist Arif Mahmood’s work speaks to the incredibly texture of the seemingly mundane.
Mahmood describes his work as part of his participation in this exhibit:
We live in and within boundaries of our fate. We are thrown into certain situations which are beyond our control. I document what I see, but I also give a small part of myself to the image. The street teaches you the closeness that you need to have when documenting the look on a person’s face. A graphic moment of texture and composition that only exists for a split second is the ultimate gift a photographer can be given.
While visiting DC, I went to see Power|Play: China’s Empress Dowager, an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery (one of my favorite places in the city). The exhibit is comprised of several photographs taken during the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, which provide a much more comprehensive look at her life than most understandings of her place in history. The gallery’s description of the exhibition illustrates how these photographs illustrate the complexity of Cixi’s leadership:
From the 1860s until her death, the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was the dominant political figure of China’s Qing dynasty (1644–1911), acting as regent to two successive emperors. During her reign, the Qing court came to be regarded as conservative, corrupt, and incompetent. The situation worsened after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when Cixi was accused of encouraging the killing of foreigners and Chinese Christians. Her reputation plummeted in China and worldwide.
In response, the Qing court initiated measures to improve the Empress Dowager’s image. Along with inviting foreign visitors to receptions at the palace, these efforts included arranging for a series of photographic portraits of Cixi, some of which were presented as diplomatic gifts. Taken by a young photographer named Xunling (ca. 1880–1943) between 1903 and 1904, the series comprises the only surviving photographs of the Empress Dowager. The Freer|Sackler Archives contains thirty-six of Xunling’s original glass-plate negatives, which form the basis of this exhibition.
Though dismissed as emblems of Cixi’s vanity and the Qing dynasty’s extravagance, the photographs became an enduring symbol of the dying reign and helped form the “dragon lady” persona seen in films throughout the twentieth century. But closer examination of the photographs reveals many of them were crafted as part of a strategic diplomatic and public relations campaign. Analysis of carefully placed symbols found within these images has provided new insight into the Qing court culture, as well as the Empress Dowager’s public and private life.
Since visual representations of Cixi produced stereotypes concerning Asian women that still persevere, this exhibit is extremely important in revealing the historical processes behind the development of this imagery. The exhibit is open until January 29th, and if you are in the DC area, I strongly recommend you visit it!
The Lost Pictures by Allan deSouza (1962-65/2004-5)
deSouza writes of this series:
The original images were 35 mm slides taken by my father between 1962 and 1965 in Nairobi, Kenya. With Kenyan Independence in 1963, the images record a pivotal historical moment with some of the images being taken during the Independence Day celebrations. These were then made into 8” x 10” color prints and were placed around my apartment for up to six months in areas of strategic use, such as in the shower, kitchen, basin, etc. Some accumulated the detritus of everyday life while others were worn away by everyday contact, recording the present while erasing the past. The prints were then scanned and outputted to their finished size.
Princess Niloufer of Hyderabad, photographed in Paris in March 1947.
One of the last princesses of the Ottoman Empire, Niloufer Farhat Begum Sahiba married the son of the final Nizam of Hyderabad. Niloufer was known for her glamorous public life and celebrity status; she was considered a fashion icon, appearing in numerous magazines, including Vogue. After divorcing her husband, Niloufer settled in the south of France, integrating into the community of royal exiles in the region.
I’m interested in the type of cosmopolitanism that figures like Princess Niloufer signal through their presence in popular culture and I’d love to write more about celebrity and transnationalism in the wake of colonialism.
Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II and Maharani Sanyogita Devi of Indore, Photographed by Man Ray in Cannes, France, C. 1930.
Today I toured Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts, an incredible exhibit at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. I’ll post more extensively about the exhibit, but I had to share this incredible photograph.