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History Is Complicated

Ulrich Museum of Art

History is complicated. For the exhibition Postdate: Photography and Inherited History in India at the Ulrich Museum, nine contemporary South Asian artists examine their colonial history through the medium of photography.

India’s independence is fairly new. In 1947, two centuries of British rule came to an end and both India and Pakistan were born. This separation triggered incredible violence and the largest mass migration to date, known as the Partition.

This history is also entwined with the history of photography – a British import that flourished in the 20th century--and colonialism echoes throughout the show.

This is evident in the art of Nandan Ghiya. Ghiya takes 19th century studio portraits and hand-paints digital distortions directly on the photo.

Credit Ulrich Museum of Art
Nandan Ghiya / Download Error, DSC02065, 2012 / Photographs, acrylic, and wooden frames

For works like Download Error, DSC02065, he pixilates the face of the person sitting for the portrait and simulates computer glitches by making the frame jagged and stretched as if the images didn’t quite download correctly in the 21st century.

In a different mode, Pushpamala N and Clare Arni replicate ethnographic colonial photography, popular religious prints and Bollywood scenes, for their series Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs. These exacting reproductions question historical and contemporary representations of women as well as the performance of identity.

Credit Ulrich Museum of Art
Pushpamala N. with Clare Arni / The Native Types—Toda (after a late nineteenth-century British anthropometric photograph), from the project “Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs,” 2000 – 2004 / Gelatin silver print

Each artist in Postdate offers a different approach – photographically and conceptually. If you are not familiar with contemporary art from India, you are far from alone. What I like about Postdate is that don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the show. It is an accessible show that offers premiere contemporary art with complex themes.