Enter Rajkamal Kahlon: a Berlin-based American artist and theorist of the robust afterlife of colonial visuality. Her early works, using gouache on book pages, undo the poised stillness of “the people of the world” illustrated in colonial ethnographies. A naked kneeling form ‘enters’ the familiar figure of a woman in a sari. We see only the lower half of the figure painted onto the sketch of the woman; the canvas is a book page taken from a children’s grade school book on India (published in 1894). At first glance its rawness appears to violate the docility of the ethnographic subject in the sketch. Unsettled, as we reflect on what this might mean, we realize we are complicit in its penetrating movement, the looking/entering under the sari; we participate in the proverbial colonial desire to look under the veil. At second take, then, the nakedness bleeds from the sari’s rim, discomforting, provoking. The colonial afterimage wavers.
"Her work is too political, too controversial and too sexual. It will offend our students."
-Harvard Board of Trustees