Self Portraits as women whose lives I often wonder about.
2016 – 2017
This series, I confess, began out of a sense of exhaustion . I wondered if an exploration of the self with role-playing and performance, a form of expression that I had so far hesitated to explore, was what I needed to jolt myself . I conjectured that perhaps by making 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. The moment I finished the first two in the series, I remember clearly how liberating it was to release myself from my own identity – I began to feel that I could very well have been them. The deliverance was a revelation, and the joy was in discovering fearlessness.
By the time I impersonated 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. As with Indian Memory Project, my curatorial undertaking, I was already consumed with ideas of world history that began to feed this photographic process.
The destabilization 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; it was almost as if I knew their secrets, their pain, and their desires. With each impersonation, I discovered new secrets of my own and experienced an acknowledgment of all my desires, flaws, darkness, joy, inversions, perversions, and fantasies; and I liked them all.
My process is hugely enlightening and entertaining to me. With each impersonation, I teach myself historical make-up and hairstyles using 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 it would be when they walked into my photo studio today to have their photographs taken. I can sense my posture, voice, and body change, even before I begin to “costume up.” I am not trying to achieve absolute historical accuracy, but I try to get as close to it as I can with the resources and imagination I have.
There is no grand conclusion to this work, yet it is an extremely informative project, much more so than I had presumed it was going to be. By pursuing it, I understand myself much better, both as a person and as a woman. It is clear to me now, 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