THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kochiites will not forget this artist from Wisconsin easily. His words and actions from 2015, just as the second edition of Biennale came to a close, made national news headlines! A video showing an enraged and grief-stricken Waswo X Waswo destroying his own art installations—protesting exorbitant monetary demands by local labour unions for loading his works onto trucks—spread like wildfire throughout the country.
But this time, the Udaipur-based artist, renowned for his usage of vintage methods in photography, is back in the city for a completely different reason. “Gallery OED is hosting a series of exhibitions as a tribute to Rajan Krishnan, the acclaimed artist who passed away in 2016, and I’m part of it. Rajan was very interested in ecology and landscapes, which is why my latest installation in Mattancherry reflects those very concepts,” explains the 64-year-old, whose miniatures and hand-coloured photographs have been showcased worldwide.
Through his lens
Despite its popularity—due to his use of black and white images which are then highlighted by his long-time collaborator, Rajesh Soni, a third generation photo hand colourist—Waswo’s body of work has received flak. This is primarily because The Milwaukee Centre for Photography alumni depicts rural India in the early 20th-century photo studio traditions. (Think local models with props posing in front of painted linen backdrops.) “Sometimes, due to my perspective, I get accused of being a neo-colonialist, an ethnographer, or an orientalist. Actually, all I’m doing is examining history, however, I’m told my shots remind some people of the old British-era photos,” says the lensman behind books like Photowallah.
The ‘perfect’ vista
Waswo’s current installation, titled The View, includes an
ascendable wooden platform, which is designed to resemble his former studio’s balcony in Udaipur—right down to an easy chair, TV, tables, hand-held telescopes, etc.
There’s also a self-portrait of the artist himself captured like a stereopticon card (an old 3D imaging method from the 1890s) placed in the background. Across this raised platform, there’s a
panoramically expanded image which provides a vista of the old Mewar Kingdom’s capital as seen from this vantage point. Yet, if you explores the photo through the telescopes provided, you’ll notice more than world-famous landmarks like Sajjan Garh and the fabled Lake Palace.
“Concrete buildings, satellite dishes, mobile towers, and trees that have disappeared over time, mark this once royal city,” states Waswo, elaborating, “These changes to the landscape point towards the underlying theme of colonisation—that of the human race conquering the Earth. This reflects our own intrusions and interventions into nature, especially in tourism-centric states like Kerala and Rajasthan where everyone is continuously constructing across the landscape to compete for the best view.”