Tuesday, July 2, 2013

‘Phantom Lady' and other works by Pushpamala N

Pushpamala N’s ‘Phantom Lady or Kismet, a photo romance’ was first presented at Gallery Chemould in 1998.

A photoromance series (2001) at Gallery Chemould followed with another wry and thematic presentation. For ‘Bombay Photo Studio’ (2002-03), she created Triptych, alternately dressing as a Hindu, Muslim and Christian woman. Later, she collaborated with Claire Arni, a British photographer for her series ‘Native Women of South India’ (2005-06) where the duo recaptured existing colonialist, ethnographic and popular images of women, contesting stereotypes as well as the prevalent politics of representing the female body.

Realized through an India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) grant, the concept was explained thus: "Pushpamala N and Clare Arni who has spent most of her life in South India - one black, one white - played the protagonists in a project exploring the history of photography as a tool of ethnographic documentation. Playing with the notions of subject and object, the photographer and the photographed, real and fake, white and black, the baroque excess of the images subverted and overturned each other."

A real, albeit an unconventional film formed the centerpiece of her recent Bose-Pacia solo, entitled ‘Paris Autumn’. It was a kind of ‘cinéma vérité ghost story’. It wasn't a moving picture in the traditional sense; rather a rapid-fire succession of black & white still photos that were arranged in a sequential narrative. As always, the artist played the leading role. She shared the film with other characters, the spirit of the 16th century figure Gabrielle d'Estrées, Henry IV’s beloved mistress, who died, under mysterious circumstances.

Everything in the film was uncertain. The plot wandered, not necessarily a pure fantasy. There were funky touches. And there were stabs of violence with the interspersing of Web images of Parisian ethnic uprisings. The overall pace was suspenseful and dark, but a happy ending - a cast party in progress - put the film-as-fiction question into a proper perspective. Or did it?

Pushpamala N conceived ‘Paris Autumn’ (2006), an experimental film, during a residency in Paris. The four photographic series had links to cinematic conventions of South Asia. ‘Phantom Lady or Kismet’ was a cryptic takeoff on Indian pop films about the exploits of Nadia, an eternal super heroine. The series had a rich, film-noir atmosphere coupled with a surreal, Bollywood-style narrative structure, which could be reshuffled for different showings. She was both chief actor with a charismatic presence and director.

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