Arts and Culture
This paper seeks to illuminate how the Indian photographic archive, colonial and post-colonial, continues to shape the direction of contemporary South Asian art photography. By focusing on three bodies of work by three contemporary women photographers, we can see how archival and popular imagery in India inform modern feminine identities and representations. All three artists discussed, Pushpamala N., Pamela Singh, and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, feature striking, highly symbolic portraiture in their work, appealing to the viewer to question and investigate the feminine representations on display. All three artists insert themselves into their works, employing self-portraiture and techniques either specific to the sub-continent or to women’s historic photographic practices, such as hand-tinting or family album-making. These methods highlight their concerns for South Asian feminine identities specifically. This paper critically engages with Judith Butler’s writing on gender as performance in the context of the artists placing themselves in front of the camera and performing various feminine selves. Additionally, this work discusses Zahid Chaudhary’s links between colonial photography, memory, and embodiment. As these artists perform a variety of feminine roles in their photography, they engage and subvert the photographic archive. By doing so, they underscore the power of photography as evidence of embodiment.