November 13, 2014 - January 25, 2015
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew: An Indian from India
Reception: AHA! Night, Thursday, November 13, 6:00-9:00pm, Artist Talk 7:00pm.
Photo Booth: AHA! Night, Thursday December 11, 6-8:00pm
The University Art Gallery is pleased to present a solo show by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, American artist born in England and raised in India.
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's work explores and challenges our perception of identity, photography and memory. She enlivens old black and white, or sepia toned photos through a surprising and skillful technique of digital manipulation that preserves the background while adding figures of herself or others. With this body of work, Ms. Matthew challenges our perceptions of time and collective memory, while also asking us to look with new eyes at the much cherished family photograph, especially those that were perhaps brought to this country by our immigrant grandparents. Additionally, by replacing static images with animations that are displayed on iPads and inserted into an old book or picture frames, Matthew adds surprise, an inverted dimension of time and contemporary interpretation into a traditional form of media.
Ms. Matthew states: "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 India and called the native people of America collectively as Indians." Playing on her own 'otherness' in the series "An Indian from India", Ms. Matthew impersonates selected stereotypical Nineteenth and early Twentieth century images of American Indians, some taken by Edward Curtis. Her approach is not dissimilar to that of artist Cindy Sherman. Curtis' romanticized view of this population whom he studied and cataloged as an ethnographer and photographer serves as great material for Ms. Matthew, who 'takes on' the staged stark and heroic look of these iconic images. She also often poses as male native Americans, ignoring gender based divisions and playfully comments on the male warrior's presentational heroism or the look of the perpetually haunted female that are so much a part of Curtis' photographs. In these works, Ms. Matthew doesn't try to copy the original outfits or props - but modifies them to symbolize the colonial gaze of the Nineteenth century British photographers working in India. She plays the role of exotic native in these selfies, and plays it well.
According to recent article on her work in The New York Times by David Gonzalez, "The idea, though humorous at first glance, is actually a challenging mediation on the legacies of colonial pasts that were marked by painful attempts to 'civilize' native people - if not reduce them to nameless types - while idealizing white colonizers."
The issue of identity is also reflected in her work exploring minorities. Inspired by projections that by 2050 today's minorities will be in the majority, she has been meeting with families, going through picture albums and posing several generations, using animation as well, to portray their histories.
As part of our commitment to community engagement, we will have a photo booth taking professional photographs of any three generations of woman from the same immigrant family during AHA! Night on Thursday, December 11 from 6 to 8 pm. Through these portraits, the artist wants to create work that both depict the changing face of American immigration and also chronicles the continual renewal of American diversity. The visitors can bring the whole family and get a print to take home. Learn more at tinyurl.com/immigrantphoto.
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew was born in England and raised in India. Her exhibitions include Sepia EYE, New York City, the RISD Museum, Newark Art Museum, 2009 Guangzhou Biennial of Photography, China, Tang Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Her work can be found, among others, in the collection of the George Eastman House, Fogg Museum at Harvard University, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Center for Creative Photography and the RISD Museum. The list of grants recently supporting Matthew's work include a 2012 Fulbright fellowship, the inaugural SPE Future Focus Project support grant (2013), the John Gutmann fellowship, MacColl Johnson fellowship, Rhode Island State Council of the Arts fellowship and the American Institute of Indian Studies Creative Arts fellowship.
Matthew's series, Memories of India, has been published this Fall in a book by Blue Sky with a compelling essay by Vicki Goldberg, former photography critic for the New York Times.