The extraordinary range of photography from South Asia dates back to the official birth of medium in the mid-nineteenth century. One of the first exhibitions of its kind in North America, Allegory and Illusion (2013) at the Rubin Museum of Art, offers an intimate view of vintage images from the modern nations of India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Nepal. Together, they established a unique regional history of photography through both foreign and local practitioners. As part of his historic archive, these images have been curated to explore the linked fields of portraiture, figuration, and inter-visual communication. Through a survey of documentary photography and hybrid formats, the talk traces the historical precedents of the medium rooted in traditional as well as painterly formats from both Asian and European art history. The conditions under which some of these images were made show the diverse relationship between political events and photographic practice. The talk resists a teleological narrative, taking into account not only the role of the medium and the state of technology but significantly, photography's non-linear systems of exchange, circulation and collection with the contemporary.
Sponsored by the departments of Asian Languages and Literature, Comparative Literature and History; the Division of Art History, School of Art; and the Gardner Center for Asian Arts and Ideas of the Seattle Art Museum