For more than half of the 20th century, Europe was a playground for Indian royalty. And its women were photographed by Cecil Beaton and Man Ray, snubbed Wallis Simpson, made it to the NYT’s society pages and of course set fashion trends.
Of all the royals, the women of the Cooch-Behar family stand a little apart, partly due to their Brahmo upbringing. The first of them, Suniti Devi, the daughter of Keshub Chandra Sen, was often photographed by Lafayette in Western costume but she was also an elegant saree wearer. Here her blouse, decidedly influenced by Victorian fashions, has little details at the neck and the cuffs which add to the blouse but are not overpowering inspite of being paired with a rich saree. It also helps that her jewellery is minimal.
Selections from An Indian From India (2001-2007), a photographic series by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew
Matthew describes the project in her artist statement:
As an immigrant, I am often questioned about where I am “really from.” When I say that I am Indian, I often have to clarify that I am an Indian from India. It seems strange that all this confusion started because Christopher Columbus thought he had found the Indies and called the native people of America collectively as Indians.
In this portfolio, I look at the other “Indian.” I play on my own “otherness,” using photographs of Native Americans from the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century that perpetuated and reinforced stereotypes. I find similarities in how Nineteenth and early Twentieth century photographers of Native Americans looked at what they called the primitive natives, similar to the colonial gaze of the Nineteenth century British photographers working in India.
Like Pushpamala N., another performance photographer I greatly admire, Matthew illustrates the way that racial difference is visually constructed. This type of pseudo-ethnographic imagery is not so much about capturing cultural particularity, but establishing a sense of difference in relation to those who are taking the picture.
this is really cool!!! I really like that the artist acknowledged sketchy photography practices (looking at you eddy curtis)
India’s Rajasthan’s Royals came to life at JJ Valaya’s 20th Anniversary Collection. Click on photo to see entire story.