Monday, July 11, 2011

A celebrated photographer demarks and delineates the public and private

Aicon Gallery recently showcased a series of works by Raghu Rai, entitled 'Invocation to India'. The exhibition, a tour of his solo museum presentation at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham, was part of the Format International Photography Festival.

For over four decades and a half, the celebrated photographer has returned to the subject of the outdoor space in India, revealing something particular and complex about the relationship between the public sphere and the private sphere in India. We can think about the public sphere are the street, the pavement, the park; the outdoor spaces through which we pass and re-pass.

He seems to suggest that the public sphere of India is significantly different - and ultimately dissolves the easy distinction between public and private. In the early, now -iconic work 'Traffic at Chawri Bazar, Delhi' (1964) Rai captures the ordered chaos of public space in India. If we fast-forward forty years to his more recent work, ‘A Bazaar Scene, Old Delhi' (2006), it becomes clear that the street is still a shared space.

The population density that has characterized late 20th-century and early 21st-century India means that we can't simply use terms such as ‘public space’ and ‘private space’ from a Eurocentric perspective. The public spaces that Raghu Rai investigates seem to be more layered and more multi-valent than how we might imagine public space to be in Western countries. In particular, the large-scale communal religious ritual is a common feature that takes place within the Indian landscape and that he has photographed over the years.

Public space is the arena where we all stage our daily lives. However, in India it seems that there is more of a range of activities that our staged in that outdoor arena; ablutions, religious ceremonies, sporting activities, commuting, working and sleeping all feature in this show. It would seem that a public space in India can serve as a road, as a religious site, as a bed and as a shop all within a matter of hours and he documents these processes. But he does so in a way that makes us question what exactly is public and what exactly is private!

(Information courtesy: Aicon Gallery)

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