Friday, February 22, 2013

‘Sea Change’ at Experimenter

An ongoing series by Hajra Waheed at Kolkata-based Experimenter, stitches together a gripping tale about the missing as well as the missed.

It looks to chronicle the disappearance of all those who do – under the garb of salvation, a better life or even a new one. In testimony to this, all that remains to be seen, are a series of collaged portraits and Polaroids, coded notes, files, objects, and one-page declarations.

Through these delicately executed artworks that form part of ‘Sea Change’, she enables a glimpse into the curious fragments of ourselves that we often leave behind and the offerings that we make to all those along the way. In a way, the exhibition is a quiet ode of sorts to those who dare to journey across the borders they once created for themselves. In ‘Sea Change’ the visual material is directly sourced from existing photographs – a large deck of postcards from the 1930-40s gifted to her by a friend whose grandfather spent many years photographing his travels.

Not dissimilar to most postcards from this period that generally orientalized both people and places in the global south, these particular images became the catalyst by which a process of reclamation and resurrection (of these once photographed persons and places) came into being. In some ways, these unnamed and unidentified individuals become ghosts of the past and future – a skipping record of sorts where viewers are asked to possibly attempt to identify them but are ultimately are forced to walk away without ever fully being able to grasp them or their story.

In sifting through the fragments of what has been left behind from Sea Change, it is difficult not to begin questioning whether this is indeed a story about the disappearance or perhaps even a mass migration of a particular group of people or about something else. After all, all of the notes left behind suggest a secondary story – a story of love: though what remains unclear is if it is indeed between two people or between person and nation or their notions of 'home.'

The power of a photograph to unleash both ambiguity and certainty is one of the most compelling qualities for the continued use of the medium in Hajra Waheed’s work. She remains interested in the space between translation and disorientation that takes place when stitching back histories/narratives, the relationship between the text and the photograph, and between drawing and photography.

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