Tuesday, 3 November 2015

ANNU PALAKUNNATHU MATTHEW AND THE POWER OF FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS

WALK OF FAME

BY: AMANDA BARBOSA

Have you ever felt the need to search through old family albums? Perhaps you had company over and wanted to share a story or you were bored and remembered the stack hidden away in the basement. Or perhaps you were missing someone special and wanted to be reunited with them through looking at their image.

Photographs trigger and can shape certain memories. We can be transported to the past through them and they can evoke different emotions and responses in us. Messages can also be communicated through photographs because they can easily be manipulated. Events, people or objects can be portrayed in different lights depending on what the photographer may want to remember or capture.

We often underestimate the power that they hold. Contemporary photo artist, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, asks us to reconsider this power. She applies different techniques to look at the way we can learn about ourselves and others through family photos. Having lived through three cultures, (she was born in England, raised in India and immigrated to the United States), Matthew creatively draws on her experiences and memories to encourage new perspectives and understandings.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. Source.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew is currently a Professor of Art and the Director of the Centre for the Humanities at the University of Rhode Island. Her pieces have appeared on CNN photo Blog, Buzzfead and the New York Times and is currently being exhibited through sepiaEYE. Matthew's work has also been featured in different museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in England and the Guangzhou Biennial of Photography in China.

Her first solo exhibition in Canada was actually recently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum. Unfortunately, the last day to view it was October 18 (but don't worry, there are other ways of accessing her work). I had the chance of visiting it in September and I can honestly say that I was left with a new interest and appreciation of the role of family photography. The part of her exhibit that resonated with me most were the self-portraits in “An Indian from India.” In this portfolio, she uses nineteenth-century photographs of Native Americans and contrasts them with contemporary photographs of herself. As explained by Matthew, one of her goals in doing this is to expose stereotypical assumptions that were strengthened through these colonial images of Indigenous people. In contrasting these images, Matthew also calls attention to the confusion people often make between being an Indian from India and a Native American. (See “A short movie about Annu's work” on her website).

Entrance to Generations: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew at the ROM (Photo taken outside exhibit space). Photo credit: Amanda Barbosa

If you are interested in finding out more about Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s work, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. 

Do any of her portfolios resonate with you? What are some of your thoughts on the photographs? Let me know in the comments below. 

Sources Consulted:
Royal Ontario Museum. Generations: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. May 2 to October 18, 2015.
Toronto, Ontario. “An Indian from India” Panel and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew Introductory Panel. (“Co-presented as a Primary Exhibition of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival”). 

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