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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

An Itinerant Gaze

A journey into the other side of the colonial vision of exotic India,“A Studio in Rajasthan” is the result of American photographer Waswo X Waswo’s three-year-residency at Ambavgarh Hill in Rajasthan.

Written by Georgina Maddox |
January 14, 2009 11:54:37 pm

A travelling American photographer brings a new narrative to Rajasthani miniatures

A journey into the other side of the colonial vision of exotic India,“A Studio in Rajasthan” is the result of American photographer Waswo X Waswo’s three-year-residency at Ambavgarh Hill in Rajasthan. In this exhibition,he comes up with a suite of miniatures and hand-tinted photographs. The works jocularly look at the American presence in India,the tourist visits and the mingling of traditional and modernity that is typically Indian.

“It is impossible to take full credit for the creations that have emerged from my Ambavgarh studio,” says the artist,who began his journey in India in 1999 with a series of sepia silver-gelatin prints,titled Indian Poems,a slightly nostalgic collection.

“I have collaborated with the Rajasthan miniaturist Rakesh Vijay for the paintings and the tinting of the sepia photographs has been done by Raja Soni,a colourist whose family has been tinting black-and-whites for decades,” says Waswo X Waswo.

The collection of miniatures pays tribute to artists like Atul and Anju Dodiya,Aji V N and N Ramachandran,to name a few. Next,the artist goes on to paint ribald accounts of being a European in India. He has a take on various typical situations,like getting a guided tour in a boat,and goes to the point of portraying himself in situations as Christ on the Cross,Laxmi on the Lotus and Hanuman in the forest — a mix of Mughal miniatures and Raja Ravi Varma kitsch.

“The artist truly celebrates life just as the painters of Nathdwara Pichwais who wondrously balanced sacred stories and joyous visual compositions,” says art critic and historian,Alka Pande,who has studied both traditional miniatures and modern art.

Waswo X Waswo is a traveller,much in the tradition of the early explorers of colonial times. However,he brings with him a heightened awareness of his gaze as an outsider. By inserting personal narratives into the paintings,he breaks the barriers of being just a spectator,and becomes a participant. “Sandwiched between the traditionalism of Rajasthan,the bohemian bonhomie of Goa and the cosmopolitanism of Mumbai,I have a heady mix of the old and the new India,” says the artist-lensman.

His sepia photographs hand-painted by Soni is a tribute to photo studios in small towns in India. The working class along with their instruments of trade have posed for the camera in a very self-aware manner. The candid photo of his earlier series is abandoned for a more confrontational gaze. Both photographer and the photographed engage in a parlance of cultural exchange.

The show is on till February 6 at Palette Art Gallery.
Contact: 41743034

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