PHILOSOPHER the lotus eater
 
 
 
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c‘est d‘aimer” (1975) by Andrzej Zulaws
























 

The Lotus Eaters

text Kathleen Wymar


Interstices of the Ordinary:
The photographic practice of German artist Catrine Val is largely concerned with testing cultural and historical assumptions and the role that images play as agents of perception. Her o ngoing project Philosophers stands as a critical reimagining and recasting of the canonical figures that punctuate the world of ideas. In 2014, Val extended this project to India where she began work on The Lotus Eaters. This new body of work, though falling under the larger conceptual rubric of Philosophers, charts a photographic journey through pages of Indian history, literature, and metaphysics to seize on the voices of women. Photographs such a Saraswati: Your Blissful Soul (left) takes as its subject matter the Hindu Goddess of Learning. Typically, the goddess Saraswati is represented in a lush landscape, serenely sitting on a lotus flower with a veena (a stringed instrument) in her lap. Val plays with popular expectation to position her Saraswati in the domesticated landscape of the private family home. The lotus is transformed into an ordinary bed and the veena is now a mirrored compact in which Saraswati studies her own visage. This photograph captures the interstices of the ordinary to radically alter the tendency to imagine India as a space of the spectacular, the exotic, or the transcendent supra-mundane. Significantly the theme of the image is not transparent and our understanding of its carefully orchestrated mise-enscene is predicated on recognizing the representational antecedents of the Goddess.


Kamala Surayya: My Mother at 66 (above) similarly takes up the spaces of the everyday and like Saraswati, the image claims a certain documentary verisimilitude. With this image, as with all the work in The Lotus Eaters, it is important to understand the personal history of Kamala Surayya, one of the leading writers of contemporary India. At the age of 66, the wellknown Malayalam author converted from Hinduism to Islam at the bidding of her lover. Recently in India religious conversion has become a political hot topic in which certain factions of the ruling BJP party are attempting to make conversion from Hinduism to Islam or Christianity illegal. With this in mind, Kamala Surayya carries with it the patina of the past and the present to make a comment on the global politicization of identity in the contemporary moment. In keeping with the theme of “women of letters” Val’s Sugathakumari imagines a contemporary poet and feminist sitting in a local bookshop. Sugathakumari continues to play a pivotal role in Kerala in terms of raising consciousness about the care and condition of mentally ill women.


ewers become voyeurs and accomplices in a love triangle between the camera,photographer, And with this in mind, it is interesting that Val casts an ordinary individual to “play” the role of this formidable activist. It is the “role playing” that strikes me as fundamental to understanding this image in a broader cultural context. The older Sugathakumari sits as the foundation of a trinity of figures to seemingly suggest the importance of a maintaining a genealogy of ideas and social engaged activities. The advent of the Internet, and the various ubiquitous avatars of the digital camera fuel the production of a world in which images are free floating and unmoored from their cultural and historical circumstances. Though Val’s photographs are staged and manipulated they point to the necessities of specificity, and underscore the need to challenge the passive consumption of images.



Contemporary culture is influenced by the interaction of science, economy, politics but what is needed at this point is a renewed interest in humanity and the production of knowledge. Woman in Philosophy is a deliberately ambiguous category; it indicates a racial and cultural or gender designation but also suggests invisibility. Philosophical enagements are a global phenomena; we all ask the same existential questions,” What is a good life? What is reality? What is knowledge? What is the self?” Despite the abundant variety of questions the answers are surprizing uniform and consistently demonstrate a paucity of female voices.


With this lacuna in mind, my methodology builds on the cultural effects of individualism and mechanization to employ transformations, mirror images, doubling and replications, as means to develop slippery fiction. In an effort to nuance both the questions and the answers, the conceptual task of this project is to celebrate the presence of independent female thinkers, reformers and mystics, through time and to reimagine their appearance in today’s world.



The focus of this presentation rests on two of the oldest Jewish ladies in Kochi’s Jew Town. My pictorial registration of this religiously based and disappearing community stands as a vibrant and critically minded homage to diversity. The central protagonists of these images open doors for further thought; their visage transcends religious boundaries and synergies and attests to the complexity and multiplicity of identities across India.



These images adopt a “meta” relationship to the world, where the boundaries that mark truth and authenticity are heavily blurred. The title of the work is intended as a statement. It is simultaneously taken from the most important (though under acknowledged) work of female philosophers and literary figures, some of whom come directly from Kerala. The "Lotus eater ” pinpoints a new concept of identity that takes as its catalyst Indian culture and knowledge. This project emphasizes the historical presence and absence of women to step beyond discursive postmodern modes of reasoning to propose a new language and grammar for thinking. focus of this presentation rests on two of the oldest Jewish ladies in Kochi’s Jew Town. My pictorial registration of this religiously based and disappearing community stands as a vibrant and critically minded homage to diversity. The central protagonists of these images open doors for further thought; their visage transcends religious boundaries and synergies and attests to the complexity and multiplicity of identities across India.
























 




 
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