September 27, 2012

Singing India: Karen Knorr's Photography

As September inches towards its end, I hope it treated you well. In our part of the world, the passage of seasons is indiscernible to the point that we are still experiencing flashbacks of the hot summer! My theory (and probably of most living in the Gulf;): summer ain't over until the AC is finally switched off:) Meanwhile, in more temperate climates, the leaves have begun to turn the colors of fire or falling, piling up on the sidewalks and street corners - and the crunchy crispness in the air allied with the startlingly bright blue skies makes for a stunning combination. (Yes, clearly, someone's getting nostalgic for autumn...or fall, if you please:)

For me, September was all about visual pickings and one of my lovely finds was British photographer, Karen Knorr's work via this image below:

Queen's Room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace from The India Song (2010)

To say the least, it was instant love upon encountering this image...the gorgeous aqua colored walls (bit like being underwater), the elephant-headed pillars, the co-existence of grandeur and decay, and of course, the peacock, which not only visually fits into the picture but also, its very atmosphere. There are also other little aspects to the picture that appealed to me: the numerous sheets of glass propped up against the wall (they could have been jarring elements in the picture but instead becoming one of its many story layers) and the black rings on the ceiling, reminding me of similar ones studding room ceilings in our family haveli.

The image's title is Queen's Room, Zanana, indicating that the room was part of the suite of rooms/chambers used exclusively by the women royal members. The notion of the zanana is something that has intrigued me since my student days, particularly vis a vis in terms of space. Several years ago, when toying around with the idea of working on a haveli book project, I had visited several havelis as part of research and observed that the zanana section was always that particular space in the haveli which embodied beauty, luxury, and refinement: exquisite carvings, dramatically frescoed walls, and other attractive accoutrements. It was then explained to me that as women were rarely permitted to leave the zanana, the zanana was effectively their world - and hence, it was consciously created as the ultimate site of aesthetics, possibly making the external world pale in comparison to this interior one...

Meanwhile, returning to Knorr's work, here is her artist's statement about this particular series; drenched as it is in the language of academia, I was quite tempted to bypass it and simply focus on the visual language of the images alone. Nevertheless, it still makes for a fascinating exposition as to what her underlying intention is regarding the project.

Here are a couple of the images from the series that struck me the most:

Light of the World, Zanana, Nawalgarh
You might think that I consciously chose yet another Zanana image! To be honest, the simple, clean lines and the triplet of stained windows were what appealed to me...the insertion of the bird meanwhile melds into the surroundings while still being conspicuous.

The Sound of Rain

This image was taken in Barsaat Mahal, or Rain Chamber, in Junagarh Fort, Bikaner. Considering that rain in Rajasthan could be erratic in the past and drought an inevitable feature of life, it was possible that years would pass before people witnessed and experienced rain. I love the story behind the room that the Bikaner ruler at the time had the walls so densely and intricately and blue-ly painted as to conjure up monsoon clouds and rain; it effectively conveys both the cool and the stirring drama of rain-fall, disassociating you from the scalding heat and desert outside.

The Blue Room, Samode Palace

The room's breathtakingly detailed indigo-blue ornamentation is essentially what made me gravitate towards this image. However, on second thoughts, I contemplated whether to choose this very image to place in the blog. On the surface, this image feeds into and reiterates the archetypical Indian stereotypes: the gorgeous palace and the cow; yet, India has become much more than these two quintessential symbols in the recent years. However, as I thought more about the image, it occurred to me that it was in fact a startling juxtaposition of two stereotypes - would a cow actually have ever found entry into these exquisite royal chambers? This image therefore represents the intersection of the zenana's self-contained, insular prettiness and the earthy reality of the outside world. (Or so the still thriving academic in me thinks!) Nevertheless, whatever the interpretations, it still makes for a powerful image. And as for Samode palace, I have been longing to visit it since I first discovered it in a Rajasthan coffeetable book years ago - there are several others images from Samode in this series and the images will simply testify to the palace's beauty.

Here's wishing everyone a great October!

September 14, 2012

Performative Photography: Performing Stories

I resisted the time-line change in Facebook for quite a while before Facebook itself decided to make the choice for me;) nevertheless, having once accepted it in my midst, the cover-photo function is something that I feel I can warm up to...and when I saw this image (below), I thought it would be the perfect one to display there. The confluence of the brilliant green, fuschia and blue and the striking image of Lord Vishnu in repose (sleeping seems to the theme for the past few days!) instantly appealed to me. But alas! The image size let me down and so I trotted back over here to display my visual-spoils of the day...and indeed, what a spoil it is.

"Asleep" (2010) by Nandini Valli Muthiah. 

This image forms part of the exhibition, The Visitor, which displays Lord Vishnu in a parallel universe of sorts and is the work of Indian performative photographer, Nandini Valli Muthiah. Interestingly, my first brush with Indian performative photography also occurred in a mythological context through renowned performative photographer, Pushpamala N. and her series relating to crucial women figures in the Ramayana, specifically Kaikeyi, Sita, and Surpankha. She had provided an image from that shoot for Platform magazine accompanied by a commentary on how  elaborately and meticulously she conceived and executed the shoot: it appeared to be a film-still - and yet was not. Similarly, in this article, Nandini reveals the extensive preparatory work that this exhibition necessitated along with the actual exhaustive requirements of executing the shoot itself. For me, as I have mentioned before, the back-stories are always fascinating and this extra-knowledge, so to speak, adds, rather than subtracts from, to the overall experience of viewing the work.


Hindu mythology is bursting with stories already narrated and heard and seen multiple times; yet, one can still tease out another interpretation or perspective from them and re-cast them in new stories and forms. For example, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni narrated Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective in The Palace of Illusions, ostensibly creating a feminist re-telling of the story. Perhaps, an inspiration for me? Time will tell:)

September 13, 2012

Photo-essay: Mute Beauties

As far as sculptures go, for some reason, I have never been particularly interested in or inclined towards them. A large or mammoth-proportioned sculpture would probably have a greater chance of intriguing me though (particularly if it dates from historical times) but smaller sculptures do not evoke much of a reaction. However, when I chanced upon this 1910 Brancusi sculpture, Sleeping Muse, I could not help but be drawn towards it. Perhaps, it was the sublimely depicted expression of utter serenity in repose or the simultaneously warm and cool textures of the metals used in abstracting the sculpture - whatever the qualities, this sculpture is something I would definitely like to encounter in real-life.

Sleeping Muse, Constantin Brancusi (1910)

Interestingly, encountering the image of the sculpture made me suddenly recall a conceptual photography project that I had embarked upon several years ago and whose subject happened to be the wooden figurines and sculptures dotting my home. I happen to be quite fond of wood as a building material, especially when used in doors, windows, and floors - and I also like the idea of using wood when creating figures or objects. I find them much more warm and alive, so to speak, when wrought in wood, as opposed to stone, for example.

I wanted to explore the notion of these wooden figures being ostensibly mute and yet still speaking volumes through their form and shape and appearance. I chose Indonesian and Nepali wooden-face masks and a wooden figurine of a woman from Phillipines that I also use as a make-shift bangle rack. Incidentally, this figurine has especially inspired me at various levels - I have written poetry and articles about it and now, in photography, I found myself wishing to abstract a narrative from the image of her almost shackled with the weight of the wooden and metal bangles I had placed around its form. The expressions that the face-masks and the figurine display are of sleep, repose, rather, encountering peace in that state - and perhaps, that's how my mind made the associations with these images and the Sleeping Muse.

However, as it happens with many projects, while I took a lot of pictures and attempted to jigsaw them together into some kind of story, I eventually abandoned it for something else. I hadn't thought about the project for quite sometime now and almost forgotten about the images that I took for the project; however, the Sleeping Muse having jumpstarted my memory, I hunted up the images (which were aptly found in a folder called 'Misc' on my laptop) and present a semblance of a photo-essay below:

Sepia Silence

Shadowed Existence

Prisoner of Patience


September 10, 2012

September Ramblings...and Origami Trees

It isn't time that's passing by,
It is you and I.

-It Isn't Time That's Passing By, Ruskin Bond
August has already passed, September has swiftly marched its way into its second week - what substance does passage of time have anymore? Is life simply to be experienced in an eye-blink? Yet, when I single-mindedly gaze at the clock, it appears as if the minute hand is taking an eternity to complete its then seems that watching a minute pass appears to be much more time-consuming than sensing it pass. And even so, how quickly minutes melt into hours, hours into days, days into weeks...and before you know it, I will be writing my end of the year post again!

Well, dear readers, before my ramblings threaten to become even more abstruse than usual, let me present you a discovery that certainly brightened up my day - and perhaps, triggered off my meditations on time. Having located it in that amazing treasure trove of all things pretty, Pinterest, it conjured up a peaceful, idyllic spot of time in which you can linger and contemplatively peruse through your thoughts, dreams, musings...these colorful origami birds will certainly assist your imagination in literally taking flight.

Colorful flights
It struck me that you can easily inject a bit of whimsy and eccentric creativity into your own home through this method; all it takes is a tree/branch, origami/paper birds, and your unique vision to transform a corner of your home/garden into a me-space. For me, studding your home with such amusing oases of innovations is what breaks the monotony and reminds us that you can actually briefly suspend time...

Do you have such me-spaces in your own home? How did you go about creating them? I would love to hear about them!