In the Bartels Gallery, Floor 1L
Al-An deSouza’s experiments in photography routinely challenge everyday notions of the photograph as recording a fixed moment in time or providing reliable access to the past. This exhibition combines three recent photographic series—Flotsam (1926–2018), Elegies for Futures Past (and other Fugue States), and Anthology—with an earlier series, The Lost Pictures, in ways that question such notions about photography in relation to family memory, diasporic identity, and the broader sweep of historical change linked to colonial empire and its ongoing repercussions.
DeSouza’s complicated familial history, which saw their family traverse three former colonies—India, Goa, and Kenya—and two former colonial powers—Britain and Portugal—provides fertile soil for these explorations. The artist developed all four series while in a retrospective frame of mind: The Lost Pictures while mourning their mother’s passing in 2004; and both Flotsam and Elegies for Futures Past while mourning their father’s passing in 2018. The installation is also interspersed with an experimental commentary by deSouza in dialogue with the artist Anne Walsh.
DeSouza expands our understanding of the photographic image as a vehicle for memory through multiple artistic strategies, from intervening in the physical processes of film photography, to digital manipulation, to repeatedly photographing the same spot over time. Cumulatively, the four photographic series mingled with deSouza’s commentary calls our attention to the malleable nature of both memory and the photographic image. Analogous to one another, they are both subject to accumulations and losses that result from the vagaries of time, physical environment, an individual’s changing circumstances, or shifts in historical perspective.
DeSouza presented the third in a series of artist talks with the campus-wide Migrations Global Grand Challenge, part of Global Cornell, with support from the Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative. A recording is available to watch here.
This exhibition was curated by Gemma Rodrigues, the Ames Director of Education and Curator of the Global Arts of Africa at the Johnson Museum, and supported through a grant to the Migrations Global Grand Challenge. All works are courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York and New Delhi.
Al-An deSouza (born 1958 in Nairobi, Kenya) has been a practicing artist in London, New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. They participated in the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and have an MFA in Photography from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a BFA from the Bath Academy of Art, England. DeSouza works across different disciplines, including photography, digital media, text, performance, and pedagogy. DeSouza’s recent books include How Art Can Be Thought: A Handbook for Change (Duke University Press, 2018), which examines possibilities for decolonizing art pedagogy and critique. DeSouza is represented by Talwar Gallery, New York and New Delhi, and is a professor in the Department of Art Practice at University of California, Berkeley.