Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart announces Tasveer Gallery’s exhibition ‘Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography’.

London: Tasveer Gallery in collaboration with Saffronart presents a photographic homage to the depiction of Indian women from the 1850s to the 1970s. Tasveer Gallery, since it’s opening in 2006, has been committed to promoting and exhibiting contemporary photography.

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=49

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=49

Carefully selected from the archives of the Tasveer Foundation, the exhibition features 65 photographs including studio portraits, film stills, post cards, cabinet cards and lobby cards. The anonymity of some women juxtaposed with the fame of some, forms a realistic depiction of womanhood in India. There are stills of dancing ‘nautch’ girls from the 19th century, private studio portraits of women with their families and splendid portraits of yesteryear 40s and 50s stars like Saira Banu and Nargis.

Group portrait in Marathi House, 1910. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=10

Group portrait in Marathi House, 1910. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=10

Thus begins a visual journey that transports us back to the evocative black and white era. Ted Grant once famously quoted: ‘when you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls.’ This dictum couldn’t hold more weight in relation to the photographs exhibited. The women sometimes boldly meet the gaze of the camera, and sometimes avert their look into one of wistful contemplation. In doing so, they offer a slice of social and cultural context of their own personal history.

Reclining Lady, 1870. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=52

Reclining Lady, 1870. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=52

With the advent of the film and photographic medium, the representation of Indian femininity underwent a radical transformation in the public sphere. The female representation, previously kept within the confines of homes and behind veils, now took a step forward and embraced colonial modernity. The female image fashioned itself within elaborate studio setups as well as within the print medium.

Nautch Wali Dance Girl, 1890. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=25

Nautch Wali Dance Girl, 1890. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=25

The curatorial strategy of the exhibition abandons chronology in favour of spatial placement of these women. Nathaniel Gaskell, curator of the exhibition notes: ‘Often such spaces — domestic, outdoor, shared or even abstract spaces — are very telling of how women were perceived.’ The exhibition also features an ethnographic account of the lives of women from different parts of India in different periods in time. From a visual depiction of women from the pre-colonial and colonial era, a diverse and vivid ethnographic map of society can be derived.

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=23

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=23

From the dichotomy of the domestic or performative spaces they were photographed in, to the diversity of their individual stances, each photograph was an exercise in feminine self-representation and told its own story. The exhibition manages to create a dialogic interaction between the viewer and the photographed subject.

Portrait of Maharani Menaka Devi, 1940. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=22

Portrait of Maharani Menaka Devi, 1940. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=22

This exhibition is also in partnership with Vacheron Constantin and Cinnamon.

The exhibition commences at the Saffronart Gallery in Prabhadevi, Mumbai on the 27th of September and goes on till the 5th of October 2013.

A limited edition boxed folio of prints from this exhibition is available online at StoryLTD.

For more information on the exhibition, visit the website.

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