Pushpamala N. (b. 1956, Bangalore, India) is a photo, video and installation artist, writer, theorist, and curator. Born in Bangalore, Pushpamala studied sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda. As a sculptor with an interest in narrative figuration, Pushpamala N. transitioned into casting her own body as various characters and personae in the medium of photo-performance while working with a variety of photographers. In the structured compositions of her ‘photo-romances’, studio photographs and experimental short films, the artist seduces the viewers through spectacular and elusive narratives. Collectively, her work deals with post-colonial theory and a feminist historical gaze. Her work has been shown widely in India and internationally in venues such as the Johannesburg Biennale; Asia Society and Newark Museum, USA; Museo Tamayo, Mexico; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Abteiberg, Germany; Maxxi Museum, Rome; Mori Museum, Tokyo; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; and the National Gallery of Modern Art and Devi Art Foundation, Delhi. She lives and works in Bangalore, India.
A feminist artist living in Bangalore, India, Pushpamala N. (b. 1956) has subverted dominant media paradigms throughout her esteemed career as a photographer, video artist, sculpture, writer, curator, and theorist. In the collaborative series Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2000–2004), she and the English-born photographer Clare Arni (b. 1962) create performances for the still camera that make visible representational ideals projected by representations of polytheistic deities, documentary photography, and popular culture. In tracing the connections between archetypes, the Native Women series makes visible how the colonial gaze and the patriarchal one have worked in tandem, creating oppressive ideals of femininity that enjoy continued traction in the epoch of globalized neoliberalism. Pushpamala N. casts herself in each role, faithfully re-creating her source material. The act of restaging becomes an act of reclamation.
In Lakshmi, based on an oleograph published by the Ravi Varma Press in the early twentieth century, the figure of the goddess known as the embodiment of beauty, a charm for abundance, emerges in the flesh from a flattened, picturesque background. Another photograph, Toda, is based on a nineteenth-century British anthropometric photograph. Making explicit the quotational nature of the colonial positioning, two hands hold up the checkered backdrop against which a woman stands, consenting to have her body measured and catalogued. Circus uses an iconic Mary Ellen Mark photograph taken in India as its starting point, demonstrating how the construction of the sympathetic female gaze has created a culture of charity that short-circuits opportunities for solidarity among women. In these images—representative of the series as a whole—the symbolic becomes flesh and blood, the background is a figure, and the object claims itself as subject.