Identity and personal history are the driving force of the art one creates. But what does identity mean for people who have been denied their right to it, especially in the context of post-colonial subjects?
The post-colonial subject is also one whose identity has been fragmented. What does art then mean for them? How do identity, narrative, storytelling, and art then weave themselves together to answer these questions of who they are and where they belong.
While these are larger questions that researchers, academicians, and scholars have been trying to answer in the past six decades and more, photographs function as brilliant ways to tell the stories that words fail to capture. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
“Your identity instructs almost every aspect of your life,” says Amisha Bonia, a visual communication student, who grew up in Guwahati, Assam — who is also trying to understand her own sense of identity and belonging as well as that of her community.
The Idea Behind The Photoseries
“These ideas come down to really small things like eating patterns or clothing, how you spend your leisure time, or the way you interact with everyone around you when you go out.”— Amisha Bonia
While the lockdown has been hard on almost all of us, it was also a great time for many to reconnect with themselves and the world around them. It was no different for Amisha whose photoseries Decolonization - The Tale of my Ancestors was a direct result of her lockdown introspections.
“It was the initial days of lockdown when I was at my house trying to understand narratives and how to explore them as a photo essay. This is when I tried to explore a lot with ideas of what is around me and tried to reimagine my environment and myself.”
“During this very period, I was reading a lot of literature on identity. I read literature by Mamang Dai, Indira Goswami, Perumal Murugan, and Manto as well as poems by Sukirtharani and Amrita Pritam. I believe this was the first time in my life when I was allowed the space to think about my identity and who I am for the very first time and it made me rethink some patterns which instructed the way I saw accessibility to spaces and things but most of all organization of daily life or life for that matter,” she adds.
“When I talk about it, to be honest, it sounds abstract with the kind of words I am using explaining myself or the visual lens that is used to see such concepts, but at the same time, these ideas come down to really small things like eating patterns or clothing, how you spend your leisure time, or the way you interact with everyone around you when you go out.”
The Concept Of The Photoseries
“I wanted to present a thematic essay through contemporary visuals.”— Amisha Bonia
“The idea of this concept came to me as a way to understand the narrative of how various aspects of imperialism and cultural hegemony invisibly manifest themselves in our lives. Bodies and clothing, especially of women have been used to impose and spread notions of ‘civilization’ and influence people into looking up to western or so-called ‘modern’ beliefs since the colonial period.”
“Here, clothing was taken into account to explain the narrative. In urban spaces where what you wear and how you present it is in turn representative of your respective ‘social position’. I wanted to present a thematic essay through contemporary visuals.”
Personal History, Belonging & Art
“I felt different from people my entire life and oppression to me wasn’t direct or sour but instead rather indirect and made to be felt illusive.”— Amisha Bonia
“There is a certain way in which your belongingness is also about familiarity and accessibility. So this entire photo series came about when I started to have conversations on identity with my peers as well as my professors. This was rare.”
“I never had such conversations before in my entire life about belonging because I am a child of an intercaste marriage and I can never talk about how I felt different from people my entire life and how oppression to me wasn’t direct or sour but rather indirect and made to be felt illusive. My friends and I call ourselves ‘hybrid’ as a running joke to talk about these feelings but yeah it was comforting to talk about vulnerabilities with people who shared familiar experiences with me.”
What This Project Means For Amisha
“We always talk about ‘gaze’ in photography and I feel like this was my very first instance of exploring the idea of ‘gaze’ as well.— Amisha Bonia
“As I have mentioned this photo series allowed me to see identity and reimagine the idea of the same very for the first time. Most of all it felt empowering because I saw things from a creative perspective and through a visual lens. We always talk about ‘gaze’ in photography and I feel like this was the very first instance of exploring the idea of ‘gaze’ as well.”
“I felt that I could put myself in my art and narratives of what’s personal in my self-expression without being scared of being vulnerable, which reflected in my recent works where I criticized constructivism through a visual essay of my mother called ‘Fragments of my Mother’ and exploring ‘touch’ as well as ‘belonging’ in various relationships that we share may it be interpersonal or intrapersonal in a series called On Belonging.”
When we talk about art and identity, we always try to think of what it means for those who feel invisibilised by structures; for those who aren’t allowed a space for their artistic expression and who aren’t given the freedom to tell their stories. How and where does their art find space? With the internet, there is a democratization of art, one that allows for stories and photo essays like Amisha’s to reach the mainstream. It fosters opportunities for their stories to exist in their entirety, without a voyeuristic gaze and to stand as their own distinct entity.
You can follow Amisha’s work here.
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