Self Portraits as women whose lives I often wonder about.
2016 – ongoing
The Impersonations series, I confess, began out of boredom, and a sense of exhaustion with my work and life. I wondered if an exploration of the self with role-playing and performance was the need of the hour to jolt myself out of weariness, a form of expression that I had so far hesitated about. I conjectured that perhaps with a self portrait as another woman, with a life, creed, background and ethnicity completely removed from my own, I might stumble onto something that I had missed. I dressed up and photographed myself as my domestic help, Mary, a warm, young, god-fearing woman from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, and I remember clearly how liberating it was to release myself from my own way – that I could very well be her, in another life, body and time. The deliverance was a revelation, and the joy was in discovering fearlessness.
By the time I got to impersonating my own grandmothers, it was a deeper engagement but it wasn’t significant enough. My grandmothers were women I never got to engage with much, but we shared a genetic pool and family history – there was room to explore both the familiar and unfamiliar. With Indian Memory Project as my other curatorial undertaking, I was already consumed with ideas of world history, and it began to feed this photographic process. Eventually, I expanded on the idea and began impersonating women from world history whose lives, choices and circumstances I have often wondered about. The destabilisation of my identity was addictive and I felt closer to the women I had only heard or read about, as if I knew them better than anyone else; that I knew their secrets, their pain and their desires. With each impersonation I discovered new awareness, new secrets of my own, and an acknowledgment of all my desires, flaws, darknesses, joys, inversions, perversions and fantasies I have harboured; and I liked it all.
My process too is fortunately hugely self-entertaining. With each impersonation I teach myself historical make-up and hairstyles from YouTube videos. I work alone, I tell myself a story about the person the whole day, I sit with curlers or oil in my hair and hold long imaginary conversations pretending to be that particular woman. I spend hours wondering about what they may have been like at exactly my age and how would they be if today they walked into my photo studio to have their photographs taken. I can sense my posture, voice and body change, even before I have begun to costume up. I am not hell bent on rendering myself to historical accuracy, but I try to get as close to it as I can, with the resources and imaginations I have.
There is no grand conclusion to this work, except that it is an extremely enlightening project than I had presumed it to be, and I understand myself as a person and as a woman both a lot more. It seems that all of our lives are a series of impersonations and roles we play to get to fleeting truths. The self we assume we are, cannot be tackled directly and imposes perennial unveiling and disguises. This ongoing series is now my emotional, cultural as well as intellectual heritage. It embodies my personal mythologies and an evolving identity as a person and a photo practitioner. To allow all my possible selves to disclose paths to finding my truth, is as I have discovered, the greatest of all artistic freedoms.
Anusha Yadav, Mumbai