Postdate: Photography and Inherited History in India

  • Image
    A painting with plants, flowers, and trees leads to a simple white temple with a yellow background. Against this is a photo a strong Indian woman with blue skin dressed in a traditional red sari. She holds a black bird in her right hand, staring at it as the bird stares back.

    Pushpamala N.,
    The Native Types—Yogini (after a sixteenth-century Deccani painting), from the series “Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs,” 2000–2004
    Chromogenic print on metallic paper
    20 × 14 inches
    Collection of Dipti and Rakesh Mathur
    Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Nature Morte, New Delhi

  • Image
    A photograph of a street view with a man on a phone in front of a small newsstand. He is in the middle of a long street lined with small cars. On the left side are several buildings and on the right side a fence lines the street with a tree at end of it.

    Jitish Kallat,
    Artist Making Local Call, 2005 
    Digital photographic print
    95 x 411 inches 
    Courtesy of the artist 

  • Image
    The subject's blue fedora is visible in the top half of the framed, painted portrait. His green button-up shirt—with a pen poking out of the pocket—is visible in the bottom half. His pixelated face stretches diagonally connecting the two halves.

    Nandan Ghiya,
    Download Error, DSC02065, 2012
    Photographs, acrylic, and wooden frames
    21 ½ x 26 ½ inches 
    Courtesy of the artist and Exhibit 320, New Delhi 
    Photograph Ranjita C. Menezes

  • Image
    A vintage National 35 Sprinty BC camera sits atop a table in a long-abandoned room. The wall is covered in layers of peeling tan, pale yellow, baby blue, and brown paint—all muted tones.

    Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya,
    Through a Lens, Darkly, from the series “The Archaeology of Absence,” 2009
    Pigment print
    16 x 24 inches
    Courtesy of the artists and Photoink, New Delhi, India

Reading the photograph is to read into all the things it says, and at least into some of the things it does not say. Listening to its silences is an act of the imagination.
—Raqs Media Collective

The contemporary South Asian artists in this exhibition take history into their own hands. They mine the uneasy legacy of photography in India and reach back in time to engage in artistic conversation with historical photography, particularly with images made in the early days of the medium and at the height of the British occupation of the subcontinent.

Their sources of inspiration are diverse: hand-painted studio portraits from the early twentieth century; archaeological surveys done by the all-powerful East India Company; and film stills from Bollywood movies. Much of this imagery has entered the popular visual imagination and lives on through mass-produced depictions of Hindu deities, panoramic postcards and tourist reproductions, family photographs, and common studio portraits. These artists embrace tradition and innovation as covalent rather than competitive forces: they provide a new voice-over for the past.

In the West, representations of India are often limited to photographs of the Taj Mahal or of heartbreaking poverty. The artists challenge such stereotypes and also deepen our understanding of the impact of colonialism on visual culture. Postdate: Photography and Inherited History in India celebrates socially engaged, postcolonial approaches to image-making in India and marks the US debut of several of the featured artists. Works by Nandan Ghiya, Gauri Gill, Jitish Kallat, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya, Pushpamala N., Raqs Media Collective, Vivan Sundaram, and Surekha will be on view.

Pushpamala N. re-enacts nineteenth-century ethnographic portraits and 1920s film stills that feature mysterious Bollywood ingénues—archetypes of womanhood in India. Nandan Ghiya obscures the identities of the subjects in nineteenth-century, hand-painted portraits. He pixelates their faces, then morphs the boundaries of the image as if an error in electronic transmission has occurred. In her 2001 series “An Indian from India,” Annu Palakunnathu Matthew investigates the historical connection between the representation of South Asian Indians and Native Americans. For example, she pairs a nineteenth-century photograph titled Feather Indian with an image of herself with a bindi on her forehead, titled Dot Indian.

Postdate was organized collaboratively by the San Jose Museum of Art and the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Kansas.


Made possible by generous grants from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sponsored by Kaushie Adiseshan and Anand Rajaraman, and Tad Freese, with support from Yvonne and Mike Nevens, Dipti and Rakesh Mathur, the Asian Cultural Council, and Christie’s.