Photo Project: The Idea of India

Rabindranath Tagore once argued that the “idea of India” itself militated against a culturally separatist view—”against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others.”

This argument is the inspiration of a new photo project that I have already begun that explores India’s heritage of religious and cultural pluralism and syncretism.  The project is a one-man civil society initiative to counter and correct the simplistic and reductive historical narratives that pit India’s religious communities against each other,  color the debate on the issue of Kashmir, and were the basis of the separation of the state of Pakistan from India. By examining the real, lived experiences of the people of the region called the Indian Sub-continent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) I intend to highlight landscapes, sacred spaces, literature, poetry and even philosophies that reflect to the long history of mutual respect, tolerance and most importantly acceptance that have defined the historical and cultural experience of India’s many religious communities.  In a region deeply and adversely affected by a politics of hate and sectarian nationalism, I want to show how traditional practices of cultural and religious tolerance can offer a means to communal dialogue and a weapon of resistance to the rhetoric of the sectarians.

This project, tentatively called ‘The Idea of India’, is a journey though an alternative India; of lived experiences, of lives and imaginations not bound by sectarianism. In some instances I will be documenting real, lived acts of resistance and cultural sharing. In other instances I will explore social spaces that point to worlds more complex, beautiful and vital than those offered by the threadbare hate mongering of the sectarians. In other words, I will use photography not only as a means of evidence, but also as a vessel for the imagination.

I began the work about 2 months ago in Ayodhya and am documenting the diverse religious community and culture in that city.  Though much of it has been lost since the destruction of the Babri Mosque and the ongoing campaign of a certain group of Hindu fundamentalists to construct a Ram temple at the site of the destroyed mosque.  Yet, there is a strong and active community of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and just plain residents who have resisted the sectarian divisions and are attempting to heal the wounds of the 1992 destruction.  The story of the city Ayodhya is not as simple as we may think, its history and heritage marked by centuries of Hindu-Muslim co-existence and tolerance.

Today one still finds mosques within Hindu neighborhoods, Hindu families visiting and praying at Sufi shrines, and Muslim men who assist them in performing the necessary rituals at these shrines, Hindu mahants dismayed at the destruction of the lives of their neighbors and campaigning against the fundamentalists and Hindu festivals attended by Muslim residents of the city.  I was even surprised to learn that the only craftsman in Ayodhya skilled enough to make the special tablas used in Hindu temple ceremonies belonged to a Muslim family whose shop is few meters away from Ayodhya’s holiest Hindu temple, the Hanumangarhi.  More details about Ayodhya, its history, and other topics will be posted on this site in the coming months.

In the mean time I have begun to seek some independent funding for the project and though its current scope will see me travel from Kashmir to Kerala, its actual scope will be determined by the financial resources I can generate along the way. More details and more specific posts on the work, plus previews of the photographs, will be posted at this blog in the coming months.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.


Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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