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One of the grand feats of powerful imagery is its ability to transport you to faraway lands and ensconce you in exotic cultures. If you’re anywhere near Boston, you can take a short hop across the globe into India, a land long on lively traditions and colorful cacophony. Six diverse artists present captivating insider and outsider perspectives in Zindagi: A Celebration of Daily Life in India and Kalacharam (“culture”) exhibiting in all galleries at the Griffin Museum of Photography through November 27, 2016.
Zindagi: A Celebration of Daily Life in India features the work of five artists in the Main Gallery. Manjari Sharma and Priya Kambli, Indian-born and raised, each immigrated to the United States as a young woman. In styles as diverse as India itself, their photographs incorporate an acutely sensed personal and cultural duality. In her Darshan series (Sanskrit for “apparition” or “glimpse”), Sharma converts the Hindu deity sculptures and paintings of her youth into massive, ornately framed photographs, inserting a Western slant by featuring human subjects (often her friends). Executed on a gigantic scale befitting beloved deities like Lord Vishnu and Maa Saraswati, each subject is dazzlingly garbed and adorned, complemented by elaborately constructed sets that bloom with colorful detail. Sharma expresses the familiar immigrant desire to assimilate two cultures with exuberant images that sing with vibrancy and spirit.
In her series Color Falls Down, photographer Priya Kambli’s meditative diptychs and triptychs utilize self-portraits as the link between her past and present, combining elegant close-up studies of reminiscent household items like the ubiquitous flowers of India and turmeric, the spice that represents fertility, with old family photographs to re-contextualize her new cultural identity – neither Indian nor American, but an evolving mixture. Kambli’s multiple frames address her disjointed feeling, while altered family snapshots and delicately overlaid patterns serve as an emotional connection. Kambli’s sensitive images resonate not only with those exploring the assimilation process but with all who seek a sense of identity in their heritages.
Also featured in Zindagi, Quintavius Oliver and Dan Eckstein are Americans who present their unique photographic journeys of discovery from the perspective of cultural outsiders, while Indian Raj Mayukh Dam’s documentary films express his passion for humanistic, cultural storytelling from a native’s point of view. In his series Love Made Me Do It, Atlanta, Georgian Quintavius Oliver’s pilgrimage to a culture completely alien to him represents a long-held dream of immersing himself in another world. Shot in the public spaces of India, Oliver’s street scenes capture the bustling activity of its people with a sense of marvel, while his individual portraits chime with reverent compassion. In imagery that pops with color, Oliver leads viewers on a dance through the streets of India.
In his series Horn Please, Dan Eckstein employs the fabulously decorated trucks that crowd Indian roadways as a potent condensation of Indian culture. In punchy exterior shots and biographical portraits of drivers at the wheel inside their cabs, Eckstein captures the wildly idiosyncratic mixture of modernity and tradition in India. Horn Please is the beseeching phrase scrolled on the back of nearly every truck Eckstein encountered as he drove across India, but the trucks’ brightly painted exteriors and the interiors festooned with competing stickers, garlands, tassels and shrines ring with individual pride.
A video monitor in the Main Gallery features three documentary films by Indian Raj Mayukh Dam: People of Sundarban, Antyesti and Colors of Life. While all three observe some form of daily life, it is obvious that they reflect the abundant humanism of the filmmaker. Whether focusing on the simple harmony of a rural people faced with environmental hardships or capturing the unifying festivities of rituals, Dam is a storyteller whose joy and passion for people permeates every frame, elevating the ordinary into the inspirational.
In the Atelier and Griffin Galleries, Julie Williams-Krishnan presents Kalacharam (meaning “culture” in the south Indian language Tamil), a collection of three bodies of photographs (and one poem). The Bindi Collection, The Third Eye and Morning Poetry reflect on American Williams-Krishnan’s personal and cultural revelations since 2007, when she married and started traveling regularly to Chennai in south India to visit her husband’s family. Williams-Krishnan’s images offer sneak peeks into an unfamiliar world, each a suggestive phrase in a greater lyrical verse that both she and the viewer must infer. The Bindi Collection traces the domestic spots in which her mother-in-law places the colored dots worn daily on Hindu women’s foreheads, absently left for another day. The Third Eye is a lively collection of images of south Indian Tamil soap operas, photographed with dizzying effect directly from the television in a captivating anthropological study that highlights the “eye of knowledge” dramatized on each screen (feature image). Morning Poetry, a series of diminutive square iPhone shots accompanied by her poem, is Williams-Krishnan’s ode to a new life, symbolized by the insightful visual and mental notes she made one morning as her family’s home came to life. By picturing snippets and details of daily life habitually overlooked by her Indian family, Williams-Krishnan creates a sense of emotional intimacy in delicate reveries filled with wonder and warmth.
Taken together, these six artists’ photographs and films saturate the Griffin Museum with a kaleidoscope of dynamic visions, enriching our appreciation for this teeming society’s jubilant contrasts of modern culture and spiritual tradition.
For information about these exhibits and associated program events, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/exhibits-griffin-museum-of-photography/
Feature Image: From the series The Third Eye (detail) by Julie Williams-Krishnan (courtesy of the artist).