Yogini, from the series Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs
Pushpamala N. is a photo-performance artist based in Bangalore, India. From 2000 to 2004, she worked with British photojournalist Clare Arni to create Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs. Comprising more than 200 photographs, the series focuses on depictions of women in historical and contemporary visual culture, while clearly mimicking the style of nineteenth-century compilations. Colonial photography, magazine covers, paintings, film stills, and advertisements are the source material for the elaborate restaging of studio portraits, in which Pushpamala N. herself acts as the subject for Arni’s camera.
Yogini makes specific reference to Yogini with Mynah, an important seventeenth-century painting in the collection of the Chester Beatty Library (and featured in the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation). Reproduced on the cover of the landmark survey India: Art and Culture 1300–1900 (Stuart Cary Welch, 1993), this multivalent depiction of a woman appears to reaffirm the role of the divine feminine as representative of centuries of Indian culture. Recreating the image in three dimensions, Pushpamala N. becomes the elegantly adorned central figure gazing gently at the attentive bird. Beyond playful self-representation, this contemporary Yogini probes the history of portraying the Indian woman, as well as the performative aspect of photography and its instability as a medium of representation.