When viewing any body of work from Annu Matthew, one should expect an exploration of societal roles and cultural identity through photographic means. For example, in her Indian from India series, Matthew composed images merging the pose and aesthetic of nineteenth century Native American portraits using items and attire from India. With The Virtual Immigrant, she merges two images of call center employees, in both western wear and traditional Indian clothing, onto a singular lenticular prints. Now on display at the URI Main Gallery, Matthew has pushed the boundaries further into the depths of collective identity with her most recent body of work, Open Wound.
Open Wound is an exploration of the cultural impact and of the tumultuous Partition of India in 1947. This tragic event displaced 12 million people within three months time and during which one million died. Matthew brings this series of events to light through stories from those that experienced the horrors of the Partition. Her Fulbright grant provided the opportunity to meet with the people who experienced this and share their stories with the world. There is no monument to honor those who perished in this forced migration, only the tales of a disappearing generation.
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but what if those thousand words are not enough? Matthew recreates scenes from her subjects’ Partition era family photos using members from multiple generations. Each portrait is re-imagined in an animated series that shifts between relatives. In these animations one is transfixed watching the people morph before one’s eyes. The story unfolds in an uneasy transition sometimes paired with words that provide unsettling truths. To be able to bring to light the cultural ramifications of the Partition, Matthew creates a narrative through time in Open Wound.
Accompanying the screening of Open Wound, are selections from Matthew’s other bodies of works Bollywood Satirized and Spatial Memories. Surrounding much of the gallery, Spatial Memories adds a sense of place to the atmosphere and a question as to what has been learned (or not) from the serious upheaval of the Partition in today’s India. Images of buildings literally cut in half to make way for roadway expansions, Spatial Memories reflects on what culturally could be lost by such rapid development. Bollywood Satirized is a direct satire that digitally manipulates popular Bollywood film posters with critical commentary on gender roles in Indian society. A combination of mainstream design, personal imagery, and stark, unapologetic text clearly express the deeper issues at hand.
Also on display in the corridor gallery is the work of two of Matthew’s students from her courses at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Adira Thekkuveettil’s Women on Walls documents the violent and specific defacing of women in the murals of Ahmedabad. Her work is stylistically subtle, but when paired with the text her message becomes much stronger. One must ask if this is how the concept of women in Ahmedabad are treated, how then are they regarded at home? With Re-Birth, Vishak Vardhan photographs vital organs in the process of decay alluding to the lack of organ donors within India and the countless lives that could be saved with parts that just decay over time after death. Using pig organs, the closest anatomically to humans, he captures the moments betwixt life and decay with grotesque fascination and a macabre elegance.
These multiple series of works orchestrated directly or through Annu Matthew bring to light many of the social issues found in modern India. As the American mainstream news media touches on the events of India infrequently, this exhibition provides direct insight into the heart of Indian society and culture through the eyes and stories of those who live it.