The Motherland is a study in stark contrasts.
It is often colourful.
It is sometimes black and white.
It is as rich in its poverty as it is in its wealth.
It is well adorned in its history of embellishment.
It has always conversed with its lush past and argued with its glitzy future.
This surreality is exemplified in a new exhibit at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum entitled, Embellished Reality: Indian Painted Photographs, which opens today.
The 60 works from the ROM’s own collection, dating from the 1860s to the Noughties, take what was a relatively new technology at their inception – photography – and blend it with an intricate tradition of painting.
The images depict notable figures, travelling through the markers that a well-lived life brings: marriage, coronation, pilgrimage, travel and status.
The enhancement of black and white photos with colour is not unique to India. What is unique, however, is the way in which paint was used in the embellishment of these photographs. Sometimes, it is hard to see the photograph through the paint that covers it. The ornamentation, the technique does not speak with an ordinary vocabulary. It speaks poetry.
Speaking to an intimate group prior to the exhibition’s opening, the ROM’s Curator of South Asian Visual Culture, Dr. Deepali Dewan explained that the paint was used to elevate the figure depicted within the photographs, to represent them as a higher being, beyond their reality.
These photographs were meant to embellish their worldly self, and make them other-worldly.
The exhibit runs through March, 2012. It will significantly enhance your own visual reality.
Drop by the South Asian gallery while you are there – the ROM has 6,000 South Asian artifacts, spanning 5,000 years – a portion of which can be found in the gallery.
All images courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.