A research and documentation project that engages the tendencies of historicizing the new trends of Performance Art in India. Tracing History and Evidences in Last Three Decades this project addresses some of the most inevitable research queries. This is a much larger project that claims a larger panoramic area of work. This proposed project is a part of it that engages into a location specific chapter, The Delhi Chapter. Supported by Ila Dalmia FICA Research Grant
Monday, July 14, 2014
Persistence of Memory III: The repertoire of Pushpamala N
A generic overview: Random Thoughts
and Human body is the most expressive element for a human onlooker, where as in
other natural elements also we relate to things with regard to human anatomical
expressions. We see the face of a mother or the beloved in the moon, we see the
curves of a reclining human body on the contours of mountains.
history of visual representations human face (i.e. portraits) and human figures
remained so central so long and it will remain so in the future. Though there
was a certain period marked in the history for the rise of 'humanism', the
humanistic depiction and humanistic perception was already out there across the
visual understandings. Human body remained the microcosm for all, either in
conscience or in subconscious mind.
photography and camera introduced to human, it again focused on portraits and
capturing the human body essentially. For the computer screen, for any sort of
image-editing platform there are two modes: portrait- that is vertical and
Landscape, meaning something horizontal. When the digital takes over the
analogs: you point a digital camera in any direction, it will search for the
human face and the display screen or monitor will identify the faces with
square boxes. The system is in Facebook and other online forums also where the
human face is quickly found out automatically to tag or to name or to identify.
features have something to do with voyeurism and scopophilia: wherever the
human body and the matter of looking and gazing are concerned.
photography introduced into the art world, the creator photographer remained
the artist just like the painter who paints, the sculptor who sculpts. The
subject matter, particularly in photography, is always given, found material.
It happened because the art of photography was ever considered as a medium of
documentation rather than a creation. Though in the history of painting also,
we remembered the artists but never asked about the models who posed for it.
Now, we shall talk about the aspects around
photographic capturing and turning live into a framed visual, shifting the
focus from the shooter-as-artist. the history of the shooter and the history of
the objects shooted share the same historical timeline. If there were capturer
who wanted to capture a portrait, there must be a subject who wanted to be
psychology of the objects of capturing, shooting, framing has multiple
interesting facets to observe. The camera made everyone narcissist: the ones who
love to be photographed, and the ones as well who hides face as soon as notices
a camera around. Perhaps never in the history before the camera's intervene,
human felt the stage-fright and subjective conscience. The camera started
making an ordinary person: subject, actor, object, focal point. Then starts the
self-consciousness regarding the representation of the self. A small piece of
represented visual, i.e. a photograph, taken as something beyond the everyday
ordinariness, as it turned to be a magic-box for recollection of memories in
the future, and at present, a hive of possibilities in coming future. Thus it
turned to be 'larger than life'. Ambiguities and fear started here: what if I'm
represented wrongly! A sort of stage fright! Then starts some common
adaptations of posing in front of the camera.
art, across the globe, has at least one thing in common, that is making the
body of the subject central and transcending the bodily presence into something
else from what is it. So it is not difficult to understand the insisting
energies behind a "costumed" performance art. And then 'posing for
camera' entered into 'performance art'. And then posing for camera, with
costumes, with crafted mise-en-scene got a different history.
The repertoire of Pushpamala N
N, with her splendid repertoire stands pioneer and limelighter in performance
photography in India. Recreation of popular cinematic sensibilities, re-taking
of mythological characters that kept overwhelming the society for ages, re-presenting
the representations of women in representational visual art tradition in India
and along with many other vigorous and vivid energy Pushpamala N stands forth.
She was the
first as she herself claims in the interview "Beyond the Self":
"It was a turning point I think, for my work as well for Indian Art
because nobody had done conceptual photography before..."
achievement of Pushpamala is multifaceted. Firstly her works took the tradition
of 'copy' and 're-takes' to a completely different level which was never
imagined before. secondly, the focus on visual sensibility and mise-en-scene
kept her outstanding within the realms of visual arts and performance arts. Her
works remained highly conceptual without being abstract but figurative. I think
serious art practice is necessary to human life and expression. In her voice:
"My work is very conceptual, but I don't want it to be dry". Forms,
colors and other representational elements in her works are so affluent that even if she was not the first one to do this
(if some debatable argument occurs somewhere), still she holds the ability to
stand as a milestone in the genre. Thirdly,
the balanced understanding of the mediums like film, photography, sculpture and
painting, along with the balanced appropriation of political contexts made her
works ever comprehensive. Her takes on mythology and representation of women
have feminist connotations, but they are not overtly feminist. Yet they are
much more stronger to make the viewer to think about certain issues- than many
feminist works of her contemporary times.
The early phase of the photo performances of Pushpamala had some
concerns with 'Documentation'. Realised through a two-year India Foundation for
the Arts (IFA) grant, their unusual concept is explained thus:
"Pushpamala, South Indian artist, and Clare Arni, British photographer who
has lived most of her life in South India — one black, one white — play the
protagonists in a project exploring the history of photography as a tool of
ethnographic documentation. Playing with the notions of subject and object, the
photographer and the photographed, white and black, real and fake, the baroque
excess of the images subvert and overturn each other."
Thus the representation here started with the concern of documenting. In Susie Tharu's words: "It
soon becomes evident that what has hitherto been described and celebrated as
creation/revelation/fact/truth may itself today be more usefully read as
citation, reiteration, intertextuality. Key questions would be: How and to what
effect is the "Toda" "woman" cited in colonial ethnography?
What are the processes that are formative of the "empirical" facts of
tribal life, or in another instance, the physiognomy of the criminal body? How
is the Lakshmi figure and her double, the knife-wielding dominatrix, cited in a
modern, nationalist cosmology? How does the dancing dervish of popular south
Indian Islam fit into these schemes?"
Pushpamala N. was born in 1956 in Bangalore. Her early training was in
sculpture, but as her practice progressed she brought an early enthusiasm for
narrative figuration into her photographic work. Pushpamala’s photographic
works are usually created as series, some the artist refers to as projects,
others as ‘photo-romances’. Pushpamala uses her own body to perform different
roles in these series, which draw from the imagery of popular culture,
mythology and historical references from India and elsewhere, using humour, wit
and a sharp critical gaze to look at contemporary society.
Pushpamala’s performative photography and videos sometimes function as
a kind of installation, where the exhibit may resemble a film or theatre museum
or even a movie theatre. She conceives, researches, scripts and designs the
mise-en-scenes, working with photographers or photo studios to produce the work
where her friends may play supporting roles, or offer their places as
locations, which also function as hidden ‘jokes’. She has also made experimental short films
that play with film genres. Pushpamala has exhibited internationally and her
work is held in many major institutional and private collections. She lives and
works in Bangalore and New Delhi, India.
"... In Pushpamala, the photographic medium creates
a similar sense of estrangement from both the self and the cultural mythology
it embodies. While the artist’s self becomes distributed and re-assembled as
myth, the camera breaks the mythic surface into an uncanny array of competing
references. At the same time, the carefully staged images insist on their
indexicality: the heft and weight of the body, the facial contortions, the
crumpled garments, the stilled mist were all present before the lens. The photograph’s
capacity to reveal what Walter Benjamin calls the ‘optical unconscious’ of the
visible world produces in the body a new effect, that of mutability. It is
only when the indexical image of such a body looks back from that virtual
point, as Foucault has it, that it
reinscribes a sense of self in both the artist and the viewer".
In an interview with Aditi De
Pushpamala says, "I've been doing performance photography, instead of
sculpture, since the 1997 Phantom Lady series, which Clare saw in the United
Kingdom. As a photojournalist, she's interested in images of South Indian
women. That captured my imagination. We decided to collaborate and applied for
an IFA grant for our ambitious work, a departure from the performative
photo-romances or studio portraiture I'd earlier directed".
In the interview it was continued: "In my earlier performance
photographs, a mise en scene was set up. Other characters and I posed, while a
still photograph was taken. Both Clare and I were interested in the tableaux form.
We decided to recreate representations from different media — paintings,
newspaper photographs, historical photography, advertisements, film stills,
including goddesses, mythological characters and criminals. Clare insisted that
each shoot should differ in terms of image, set, lighting, costume, even
character. Of course, the 1960s Jayalalithaa picture (in Zorro-style action
gear) from the India Today cover connects directly with the Phantom Lady.
Choosing the painterly Ravi Varma woman with the pot suited us fine because I
was working with hoarding painters for the backdrops, and he's been so
influential in forming the image of the Indian woman."
Tharu, "This is not an inventory: Norm and performance in everyday
femininity", Native women of South India : manners and customs/
Pushpamala, N; Clare Arni; Bangalore: Indian Foundation for The Arts, 2004.