Royal musings

Christian Randrianampizafy, through a captivating series of portraits, skillfully unfolds the life journey of the last queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III.
Christian Randrianampizafy.
Christian Randrianampizafy.

HYDERABAD: A photo exhibition titled “Ranavalona III, The Chrysalis Queen” by Christian Randrianampizafy seamlessly blended photography and choreography was recently unveiled at the Alliance Française of Hyderabad in collaboration with GHIAL. 

Christian Randrianampizafy, through a captivating series of portraits, skillfully unfolds the life journey of the last queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III. The narrative unfolds in three distinct phases—‘Sloughing, Unveiling, and Fall’, each phase marked by unique costumes and choreography, symbolizing the evolution of the queen’s life.

In the “Sloughing” phase, reflecting the queen’s adolescent years, marked by purity and carefreeness, the portraits depict her gradual transformation. The initial seated position with a straight gaze evolves into a standing posture, projecting herself off the ground to launch herself into space, symbolizing a butterfly spreading its wings to conquer the world. And it’s all very symbolic, because of the ceremonial dresses, symbols of the Queen’s power and glory, will petrify her and rob her of any possibility of freedom.

Moving to the “Unveiling” phase, the queen discovers the harsh reality of her position—a sham queen in a palace turned prison. Isolated and with only her reflection in the mirror for company, she becomes pious and seeks solace in prayer. She tries to escape from this sinister place several times but never succeeds. Throughout this phase, the queen is shown a blue dress which reflects royalty. The shoot for this series took place in an old factory in Cape Town, South Africa, with an industrial decor and a wide-angle lens to give the full extent of the perspective. The idea was also to show the rigidity and coldness of the location. 

The final phase, Fall, represents the most critical phase in the Queen’s life, during which she will go into exile to end her life, far from her homeland and her family. When she left Madagascar, she was unaware that she was about to embark on a journey of no return, because she had always naively believed in the magnanimity towards her of the colonial powers of the time. 

Additionally, the costumes are an integral part of the exhibition. They have been the subject of archaeological research and are identical to the dresses that Queen Ranavalona III actually wore. They serve as a reminder of the historical dimension of the project. 
Christian Randrianampizafy, explaining his artistic choices, stated, “I chose choreography and photography as the artistic expressions for this project: choreography for the universality of the subtle and even sometimes coded messages that the body can express, and photography for its immediacy and direct language.

The project is not intended to be a historical account of the life of this queen. Rather, I’m using her life as a pretext to raise women’s awareness of the risks of not being in control of their own destiny. The tragic end of her story is well-known, but I don’t want to stop there. I want the exhibition to provoke the small glimmer of light that can be glimpsed in the darkness and that will burst forth as a saving light to give hope and warm the aching hearts of oppressed women.”  The exhibition is on view till December 20, 2023.

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The New Indian Express