Visual Documentary

Re-presenting Indian Women 1875-1947: A visual documentary

When the British brought photography to India in 1840, their primary aim of using it as a tool for recording ethnographic types, surveillance and research was soon rivalled by the demands of the popular imagination. As photo studios mushroomed in the three Presidencies, the colonial and Indian middle classes responded enthusiastically to the new medium. Soon, like the western-style English-medium school, the railways, postal services and modern medicine, photography and the photographic establishment came to occupy a growing space in the consciousness of the emerging Indian urban middle class.

The photo studio acquired a special significance, providing an enclosed space where often a fantasy world could be played out: backdrops painted on canvas were unfurled and displayed as were selected props such as impressive tomes, elaborately carved furniture, pediments, exotic indoor plants, and so on. With the invention of the box camera by George Eastman in 1888, photography entered the world of the amateur and of on location shots. It also became a medium of recording and documenting, and over time, a powerful mnemonic device.

The underlying narrative of Re-presenting Indian Women 1875-1947 – A Visual Documentary treats the over 250 visuals based on archival photographs not only as moments frozen in time but as aids to understanding a country’s multi-faceted history. We celebrate the individual in studio cameos and reach out to the face in the crowd at Mahatma Gandhi’s meetings as well as to the early graduate, clutching her degree scroll with a new self-assurance. The gaze shifts from compositions of women as students, mothers, dancers, creative beings and early professionals to the vibrancy of ‘action’ shots of the national movement, of the horror of Partition and the surge of patriotism that engulfed the country with Independence in 1947. As we sifted through formal collections, personal albums and piles of sadly neglected memorabilia, we knew that we had to re-tell the tale of many lives – and not a unidimensional, tightly woven story of a collectivity known as the country’s women alone.

Exhibitions since 2001

  • 28 February-2 March, Centre for Women’s Studies, ICG-The IIS University, Srijan Hall, Gurukul Marg, Mansarovar, Jaipur
  • 17-19 February, CIET, Chacha Nehru Bhawan, NCERT, New Delhi
  • 4-6 March, CIET, Chacha Nehru Bhawan, NCERT, New Delhi
  • 1-9 October, The Global Arts Village, Ghittorni(Gurgaon) in collaboration with NIRANTAR, New Delhi
  • 4-5 March, Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar
  • 23-24 February, North East Network, Guwahati
  • 19-20 February, North East Regional Institute of Education, Shillong
  • 8-10 February, The Institute of Women’s Studies Quadrangle, University of Lucknow
  • 17-25 February, Art Gallery, Dakshina Chitra, Chennai
  • 15-16 February, Aurodhan Art Gallery, Pondicherry
  • 12-13 February, Lady Doak College, Madurai
  • 6-7 February, Regional Institute of Education, Mysore
  • 27-30 January, Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, Hyderabad University
  • 19-20 January, Mumbai University, Kalina Campus, Mumbai
  • 8-9 December, Balvikas Progressive School, Panipat
  • 14-15 November, Kala Parishad, Bhopal
  • 18-19 August, MKP College(PG), Dehradun
  • 15-16 August, Woodstock School, Mussoorie
  • 20-22 February, Regional Institute of Education, Ajmer
  • 27 October-10 November, IGNCA, New Delhi
  • 3-6 May, International Centre, Goa
  • 19 February-12 March, Seagull, Kolkata
  • 14-23 December, Art Gallery, IIC, New Delhi