The Popular Series, Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs by Pushpamala N and Clare Arni
The Popular Series, Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs
5.5 x 8 inches each
In 19th century India, there were ‘Zenana’ or all women’s studios in cities like Hyderabad and Kolkata run by British female photographers where women in purdah would get themselves photographed. Native Women of South India is a performative work where Pushpamala, South Indian artist and Clare Arni, British photographer who has lived most of her life in South India – one black, one white – play the protagonists in a project exploring the history of photography as a tool of ethnographic documentation. The series of photographs presents an eccentric array of ‘native types’ by recreating characters from familiar or historical sources, ranging from the religious to mythological to the fictional to the real. The project ironically comments on th colonial obsession with classification as well as the Indian nationalist ideal of ‘Unity in Diversity’ – the notion of looking ourselves as diverse people making up the nation – using performance and masquerade borrowed from the popular forms we see all around us, in the ‘costumes of India’ pageants, Republic Day floats, festival tableaux and dioramas, and in the dream projections of roadside studio photography.