Alexander Supartono 


Postcolonial Photo Studio

Curated by Alexander Supartono

The exhibition explores the interface of photography and colonial history by examining how photo studio concept and technique in the colonial era influence the world of images in a ‘postcolonial’ age. Contemporary South and Southeast Asian artists participated in this exhibition contest and reconfigure mannerisms, patterns and commonplaces of photo studio tradition in their respective countries. They merge the colonial past with the postcolonial present by subverting and interrupting the integrity of the (colonial) archive as well as appropriating the use and truth-value of studio portraiture. Their works propose an expanded postcolonial archive that moves from archiving the past to re-imag(in)ing a postcolonial future.

In the Marginal Trades series, Supranav Dash recreates the 19th century colonial ethno-photographic project in India with a 21st century social and technical contextualisation. He systematically records the rapidly vanished trades, businesses and professions in India and presents them in the manner of The People of India (1868-1875).

Dow Wasiksiri mimics the 19th century outdoor backdrop practised by amateur and itinerant photographers when they charted the‘unknown’ in the deep inside the ‘unfamiliar’ colonial terrains. In the Street Fashion series, instead of flat and neutral backdrop that isolated the sitters, Wasiksiri opts the colourful, patterned backdrops that embrace his subjects’ personas and therefore presents the triviality and fluidity of their everyday life.

Abednego Trianto draws geographical interconnection between photo studios and sugar factories in the Java Photo Studios Map. In doing so, not only does he describe the socio-economic basis of the photography industry, he also reveals the collaboration between commercial photographers and their clientele in the formulation of the portrait tradition in the colony. From the same tradition, Trianto describes the typology of the Javanese aristocrat’s family portrait in What I Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up? Raden Ayu of Course series. In doing so he unpacks how studio portraiture maintained and formalized the gender inequality among local elites.

In the May It Be, with Purpose and Desire, Liana Yang challenges the documentary realism claim of colonial photographs, which is also technically manifested in her risograph prints. She ‘blindfolds’ the deadpan portrait of natives with landscape photographs of volatile volcano to question the use of these two photographic genres in representing of colonial inhabitants and land as well as appropriate their use and truth-value.

Agan Harahap merges the colonial past with the postcolonial present in his Mardjiker Photo Studio, a fictional indigenous commercial studio operating in the colonial era. Operates within the archive’s mnemonic function by using the language of appropriation and parody, Mardjiker Photo Studio specialised in the inter-mixed portraits, where the westerners wear and pose like the locals and vice versa.

Colin Cavers’s Assam, the Language of Tea: A Familial Repurposing is a postcolonial investigation of his colonial past by revisiting his portrait of tea pluckers project in the context of family history. In doing so, Cavers examines the synergies, antimonies and points of rupture between the personal of the colonial and the vision of the postcolonial.

Arpita Shah’s Vasant Ritu (The Birth of Spring) is a series of studio portraits of Asian women living in Edinburgh, UK. The series appropriates the painted backdrop tradition in Indian vernacular photo studio practice. Vasant Ritu were also inspired by 18th century Mughal miniature paintings that depicted scenes of women heroines standing under flowering trees.