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Anne Palakunnathu Matthew

by Yask Desai, artist

This series of self-portraits entitled An Indian from India, references orientalist photographic practice with both wit and a wrath. Anna Palakunnathu Mathew has made what appear to be traditional orotones (a process whereby a gelatin silver positive is exposed on a clear glass plate backed with gold coating, used infrequently by photographers from the 1880s onwards), framed as double portraits in leather cases, but are in fact contemporary transparencies with gold backing. On one side of the twin frame is a historic image of a Native American, and on the other side a self-portrait of Palakunnathu Mathew as an Indian version of the same character. Although made in a tongue-in-cheek gesture, these works clearly critique the colonial gaze that is so prominent in works of artists such as Edward Curtis and his 19th-century images of Native Americans. Many artists have used self-portraiture to question the unequal power relations that existed between ‘Western’ photographers and ‘Eastern’ subjects throughout much of photography’s history, but Palakunnathu Mathew arguably takes this a step further as she examines her own ‘otherness’ as someone living in the United States of America who is often mistaken for a Native American when using the term ‘Indian’, to describe her ethnicity for officials.

Matthew’s work acknowledges that indigenous photography itself does not necessarily constitute an opposition to the colonial gaze and ‘otherness’. Rather her self-portraits constitute a sterner challenge to existing racial hegemony by offering an examination and repositioning of herself within the dominant systems and tropes of photographic representation. 


Images: Annu Palakunnathu MATTHEW

Feather Indian/dot Indian  2007–09

American Indian with war paint/Indian with war paint  2007–09

American Indian with dot on face/Indian American with dot on face  2007–09

Noble savage/savage noble  2007–09

from the series An Indian from India

ink-jet prints on transparencies, metallic gold cards, leather cases

14.5 x 9.4 cm (each image)

courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

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