Mapping Photographs of Indian Domestic Space – Curatorial Fellowship notes by Megha Sehdev
The “turn to domesticity” in visual and installation art has been reflected in the last decade of transnational Indian art photography. Following a long history of portrait and studio genres, Indian photographers are now using documentary techniques to produce a vision of space that is otherwise hidden from view, creating a distinct aesthetic of the everyday. At the same time, documentary genres carry the risk of normalizing the gaze, and of reproducing ideologies of home life. In my curatorial work I am interested in mapping contemporary photographs of Indian domestic space, both from the subcontinent and abroad. Using curatorial methods, my hope is to show how contemporary photographs continue or depart from a history of conversations on the aesthetics of the postcolonial “Indian home”.
I arrived at this project through a long process that is still in formation. Initially I intended to explore photographs for their depiction of women’s roles and activities in home spaces. I was interested in photography as a powerful tool for envisioning the possibilities of women’s domestic lives. The project was intended as a counterpoint to my PhD work on domestic violence and sought a creative reimagining of gendered space. I discovered however that photographs are not so easily read and interpreted. While some photos reveal subjects absorbed in a transformative space (Barthes’s “punctum”), the photos cannot be freed from discourses of sexual and kin norms, or from the political economy of representation (the “studium”). As a result my project has shifted to a finer analysis of influences, techniques, and tensions in the longer history of Indian photography and of broader aesthetic debates surrounding the home. I am interested in the specificity of photography and what it may add to longstanding discussions of the “private” extruding into the “public”, as a reflection of particular tastes, moralities, and politics. At the same time, I wish to retain my earlier focus on photographs that “prick”, or disturb the expected terrain of representation, creating a chance to imagine domestic life anew. My hope is that this project will illuminate some challenges I face in my PhD work in defining the elusive space of the domestic, and its shifting significance in women’s lives.
To this end I have started to assemble an online archive of images. With the support of Lex Milton at the CEREV lab, I am creating a website to display and describe selected photographs. The website provides an interface with both archiving and curating functions, in order to re-arrange the works into small, virtual exhibits. My long-term intention is to devise a shifting, experimental frame in which photographs (and eventually other forms of visual material) can be juxtaposed and emplotted within academic and curatorial descriptions.
Post by Megha Sehdev