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Landmark show on Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi photo

25 February, 2010

Artist/curator Sunil Gupta’s fantastic new show at Whitechapel Art Gallery, ‘Where Three Dreams Cross,’ (and the accompanying catalogue) is hugely ambitious, covering 150+ years of photography on the subcontinent. The main rule Sunil used, wisely I think, is that the artists had to be native born – this is not a place to see Robertson, Bourne, and Shepherd, Dr John Murray, Linnaeus Tripe or any of the other wonderful photographers of European heritage who brought their craft with them. But what remains is stunning, ranging from official Raj portraits to documentary photographs of protests, and from Bollywood film stills to new directions in contemporary art.

All the major players are included – I especially liked two extraordinary prints of Krishna impersonators by Bijoy Chowdhury (like the one above), a wall of Pushpamala N’s role play, and I was delighted to see a really lovely group of pictures by Ketaki Sheth – an artist we recently collected at the Peabody Essex Museum. Raghubir Singh still stands out in my mind as one of the great photographers of the show – I’ve long been a fan. Dayanita Singh was another standout, and, for a complete trifecta of Singhs, her mother Nony Singh included a moving group of portraits including a poignant portrait of twin sisters which sadly did not make it into the catalogue. The obvious parallel is Diane Arbus’s famous identical twin sisters picture, and the reference works.

I was just a little disappointed to see M F Hussain left out – best known as a painter, I know, but such an interesting and important photographer nonetheless. The Alkazi collection are major lenders to the show – making me incredibly jealous of their many treasures. I was able to take some consolation though that the Lala Deen Dayal prints included in the display, wonderful as they are, are not in nearly such good condition as the ones at the Peabody Essex Museum – the extensive Dayal Archive at PEM still holds up as one of the museum’s great treasures.

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