© 2017 by Rajkamal Kahlon
 

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Cassell's Illustrated History of India

2003-2005

 

Cassells Illustrated History of India, c. 1875, involves the hyperbolization of the contents and form of the book, which in its original state consisted of two leather-bound volumes, 1200 pages and 600 illustrations. I purchased the text at a Sothebys auction for $400 with the intention of unbinding the book, stripping it of its then current material value as a cultural object and starting a project that documented my response to the book in the form of drawings and paintings made directly onto its dislocated pages. The book is no longer allowed to serve its original productive function. It now serves itself, in content and form, to my revisions, additions and alterations, which use the motif of the grotesque body and its constituent parts to connect to larger social and political processes. These processes are visualized through the productive and consumptive functions of the body, urination, defecation, lactation, swallowing, eating, drinking. The mouth, the breast, the vagina and the anus constitute the symbolic and literal thresholds or boundaries of the inner and outer, the points of penetration, what is hidden and what is visible.

 

People and Places, Here and There: Stories of India

2001-2003

 

Kahlons gouache paintings overlay 19th century book leaves featuring texts and images. Revisiting the original pedagogical function of imagery in religious texts- schooling the illeterates in the scriptures- or the tutorial rationale of images in pornographic texts, she underscores the uneven access to the means of representation in books and images, and even the high levels of illiteracy, enforced by colonial regimes. Removed from their codicils, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places and similar works highlight how India was depicted in texts from the perspective of the colonizer, who self-aggrandizingly couched the often sexualized facts of domination in a patronizing rhetoric of universal betterment. Kahlons work recalls Pierre Bourdieus query on the nature of reading:  Can one read anything at all without wondering what it is that reading means, without asking what are the social conditions of the possibility of reading?

 

-Eva Diaz, The Book as Object as Performance, 2004

The Viewing Project

2001

 

The Viewing Project is made of 2 eight-foot oil paintings on panels of colonial Indian and European subjects posing in 19th C photographs from the British Librarys Ethnographic Archives.

The faces of the original subjects were cut out, the paintings' backs turned to the viewers, and the fronts were faced toward mirrors hanging opposite. In order for the viewers to see the paintings completed, the piece necessitated the viewers bodily participation within it.

 

The Viewing Project is about complicity, guilt, and denying the viewer an essentialized historical subject. The completion of the
piece is contingent on the viewers occupation of anothers identity and the momentary collapse of time, space and history. The hierarchical relationship of the privileged viewer to view the traditionally passive art object serves as a metaphor for the power dynamics of colonizer and colonized.