About that “Evil Orientalist”…

Pondy 1

How to describe Waswo X. Waswo and his work?  Kavita Singh perhaps does it best.  An excerpt of the catalogue essay for Waswo’s exhibition in Gallery Espace in 2012.

Go to http://www.mattersofart.net/feature-details.aspx?mpgid=3&pgid=3&fid=21 for the full essay.


April 20, 2012

Twelve years ago, the American photographer and poet Richard John Waswo moved to India. Two years after the move, he renamed himself to signal the change in his life: eliminating his Christian names, he replaced them with a doubled surname. There were two Waswos now, hinged upon an enigmatic X. Did the X mean Waswo has been multiplied by Waswo, to yield a self-generated clone? Or did it signal a Waswo who was formerly Waswo (a Waswo ex Waswo)? The riddle posed by his name was confounded by the fact that the new person seemed to be an iteration of the old: both old and new selves were, after all, only Waswo.

In an irony that Waswo had probably not anticipated at the time, his new name condensed within itself the issue that was to bedevil the next decade of his life. Much as he would struggle to reinvent himself, he would never fully be able to slough off his skin; and even as he was able to alter some of his own habits and lifeways, he was not always able to counter the attitudes and biases of others towards himself.

Living in India, making it the subject of his work, and harnessing its traditions to extend his own vocabulary, Waswo tried to ‘go native’ in his life and his art. He was accepted: by the townspeople who called him ‘Chacha’ or uncle, thus enfolding him in their kin; by the subjects of his photographs, bemused by his requests, who smilingly accepted his directions and his small bakshish; by his assistants and interpreters, who were piqued by challenges he posed and pleased with the regular income he provided; by a circle of artists and scholars in his adopted home of Udaipur who were stimulated by his presence; by the young men who loved him, or let him love them, for a while. He was criticised: by the artists and critics who said his early exhibition of photographs, India Poems (2003), was ridden with Orientalist clichés; who objected to its images of a timeless and unmodern India rendered in sepia tones; who suspected him of exploiting the locals whose bodies and labour he was incorporating into his own work. And he could not help but notice how his friends and helpers saw him as an inexhaustible source of money; how his whiteness made him exotic and many people he dealt with could not see the individual inside the American skin; or how quickly he was accused of orientalising, neo-colonising, exoticising an Indian other, when the position he occupied was little different from that enjoyed by any comfortably-off Indian middle class person relating to the Indian poor or working class…. ”

Excerpt taken from MATTERS OF ART:  http://www.mattersofart.net/feature-details.aspx?mpgid=3&pgid=3&fid=21

Waswo X Waswo’s exhibition “Confessions of an Evil Orientalist”  will be presented by Pondy ART on the Beach Road of Pondicherry, India.  Opening 5 p.m  Saturday 9 November.

The ARTIST will discuss his work on Sunday 10 November at 6:30 pm at Kasha Ki Aasha, 23 rue Surcouf Pondicherry.  

Both events are open and free to the ublic.



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