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merican-born artist Waswo X. Waswo brings a portion of his widely discussed series A Studio in Rajasthan to Serindia Gallery, resulting in this handsome catalogue Men of Rajasthan. Working in collaboration with a team of Indian artists, Waswo playfully recreates and examines the tradition of vintage studio portraiture. Waswo’s chief accomplice in this endeavour is Rajesh Soni, a third generation Rajasthani hand-colourist whose grandfather was once court photographer to the Maharana Bhopal Singh of Mewar. Soni’s careful and highly talented painting of each photograph adds a vintage feel to work that hovers enigmatically between the retro and the contemporary. Men of Rajasthan contains fifty images annotated with delightful commentary by the photographer himself and further uncovers the male-centric universe of a uniquely mysterious place.

waswo x. waswo

Men of Rajasthan waswo x. waswo

Men of Rajasthan

Waswo X. Waswo was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the U.S.A. He studied at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee, The Milwaukee Center for Photography, and Studio Marangoni, The Centre for Contemporary Photography in Florence, Italy. His book, India Poems: The Photographs, published by Gallerie Publishers in 2006, has been available worldwide. The artist has lived and travelled in India for over ten years and he has made his home in Udaipur, Rajasthan, for the past five. There he collaborates with a variety of local artists including the photo hand-colourist Rajesh Soni. He has also produced a series of autobiographical miniature paintings in collaboration with the artist R. Vijay. Waswo is represented in India by Gallerie Espace, New Delhi.

American-born artist Waswo X. Waswo brings a portion of his widely discussed series A Studio in Rajasthan to Serindia Gallery, resulting in this handsome catalogue Men of Rajasthan. Working in collaboration with a team of Indian artists, Waswo playfully recreates and examines the tradition of vintage studio portraiture. Waswo’schief accomplice in this endeavour is Rajesh Soni, a third generation Rajasthani hand-colourist whose grandfather was once court photographer to the Maharana Bhopal Singh of Mewar. Soni’s careful and highly talented painting of each photograph adds a vintage feel to work that hovers enigmatically between the retro and the contemporary.


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This digital issue is a sampler of Men of Rajasthan, a book accompanying the eponymous exhibition held at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok 27 January – 27 February 2011 Waswo X. Waswo’s hand-coloured photographs are available at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok, for viewing by appointment. contact:

Shane Suvikapakornkul Tel: +66 2 238 6410 Mobile: +66 89 495 5535 Email: serindiagallery@gmail.com www.serindiagaller y.com

The book is available at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok and online at: Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/dp/1932476520 Serindia.com http://www.serindia.com/item.cfm/609 >

© 2011 Texts and Images Waswo X. Waswo and Serindia Publications

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Men of Rajasthan


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Men of Rajasthan waswo x. waswo

with Hand-Colourist  rajesh soni

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> contributions by Maya Kóvskaya Amrita Gupta Sigh

serindia publications, chicago

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First published in 2011 by Serindia Contemporary, an imprint of Serindia Publications In conjunction with an exhibition Men of Rajasthan at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok, 27 January thru 27 February, 2011 Serindia Publications, Inc. PO Box 10335 Chicago, Illinois 60610 www.serindia.com © 2011 Texts and Images Waswo X. Waswo Contributions © 2011 Maya Kóvskaya ‘The Hand-Painting of Rajesh Soni and the Soni Family Legacy’; Amrita Gupta Singh ‘Re-claiming Territories, Mutating Narratives’ All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and the author(s) concerned. ISBN 978-1932476-52-1 Deepest appreciation given to: Hemant Sharma of Om Art Emporium and Himanshu “Goldi” Khaturia of Regal Handicrafts for generously loaning various props to this project, and also to studio landlords Colonel Ajith Singh Rathore and his wife Manju for being so consistently tolerant.

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Contents 6

> a studio in rajasthan by Waswo X. Waswo

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the hand-painting of rajesh soni and the soni family legacy by Maya K贸vskaya

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men of rajasthan

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new myths by Waswo X. Waswo

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re-claiming territories, mutating narratives by Amrita Gupta Singh

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new myths

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A Studio in Rajasthan

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In September of 1993 I paid a short visit to the city of Udaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. I was on my way home to the USA after spending several months in Australia. It was my initial visit to India and Udaipur as a destination was chosen with what to me is now embarrassing frivolity…I had been struck by a pretty picture in a guidebook. The postcard-like image proved later to be mislabelled and was in fact the town of Pushkar. So in retrospect my first visit to Udaipur was not only frivolous but also accidental. It did not matter. I was still young and at the time didn’t care much about where my travels took me. After visiting the city the one thing I knew for certain was that I would return. Udaipur’s magical beauties and charms had caught my imagination. With time I became a regular visitor to India and a frequent traveller through Rajasthan. Udaipur always figured on the itinerary. It holds an attraction that is hard to explain to the uninitiated. Suffice it to say the town (though officially a city, it seems more apt to describe it as a town) offers a mixture of visual beauty, historical charms, and impossible-to-explain friendships that keep one coming back. In late 2006 I rented a home and a studio in the fashionable Ambavgarh neighbourhood. Ambavgarh is a hill that stands between the twin lakes of Pichola and Fateh Sagar. The place I rented belonged to the wife of a colonel in the Indian Army and had the very pleasant name of Chinar Villa…the chinar being a wide-crowned and long-lasting tree that grows in Kashmir. The three story structure of Chinar Villa consisted of two upper levels designed for living, plus a lower level with a separate entrance. The second story terrace was the villa’s most striking feature. It lent a panoramic view across nearly the entire town. Standing on this terrace a person could see the spire of the ancient Vishnu temple called Jagdish Mandir and the impressively ornate facade of the City Palace in which the Maharana of Udaipur, His Highness Shreeji Arvind Singh, maintained his royal residence. Next to the palace stretched the waters of Pichola Lake in which the islands of the Lake Palace and Jag Mandir float like enchanted abodes from some ancient fable. The small arches of the Chanpole Bridge lay closer to view, and on occasion a wedding procession or even an elephant could be seen plodding across it. Further still to the west the “Monsoon Palace”, or Sajjan Garh as it is properly known, stood sentry upon one of the highest hills of the surrounding Aravali range.

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The Hand-Painting of Rajesh Soni and the Soni Family Legacy

New News at the Chai Shop, 2010

Rajesh Soni is a soft-spoken young artist with a searching gaze, and an understated yet fierce tenacity. He hails from the oasis-like historic city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, also known as the “City of Lakes” for its abundance of water in a state in India that is mostly desert. As a core member of Waswo X. Waswo’s Studio in Rajasthan, he has spent the better part of the past four years executing the refined yet bold hand-painting of Waswo X. Waswo’s black-and-white photographs. Given India’s colonial history, there are often reflexive critical reactions to the use of local artisans by foreign artists. But the urge to look askance, in this case, has been deflected by the unusual degree of sensitivity and transparency in Waswo’s art practice and his atypically close relationship with his team. While a great many contemporary artists in India and elsewhere regularly use the technical skills of craftsmen to actualize a conceptual agenda or execute the production of an artwork, Waswo treats Rajesh (as well as R. Vijay, his favoured miniaturist) as a genuine artistic collaborator and not a mere craftsman. Over the years the two have forged a deep relationship. By allowing a local Indian artist to exercise his creativity in the application of his formidable painting skills — imagining a < 12

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Men of Rajasthan

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The Village Barber, 2009 Going for a barbershop shave is one of the exclusively male delights of life in Rajasthan. What is pretty much a lost art in the West thrives in every small neighbourhood and rural village in India (though it is fast disappearing from the major metropolises). The Indian barbershop shave consists of brushed on lather, a straight edge shaving, a second lathering and a second, closer, shave. For good measure the face is generally massaged with facial cream and dabbed with after-shave lotion and talcum powder. All of this for a surprising low amount of rupees. A small amount extra gets you a vigorous head massage and even a soothing back massage. Street barbers working without an actual shop are also common and even less expensive. These barbers ply their trade against any convenient wall, especially in the villages. Here my assistant Ganpat gets a shave from a man who normally barbers just opposite Chetak Circle in Udaipur. His straight grin and observant eyes express the cautious welcome that soon leads to the friendliness and sociability found in most Rajasthani barbershops.

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The Channa Jor Garam Wallah, 2007

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There are two major lakes in Udaipur, Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar. Lake Pichola is perhaps the most picturesque, containing the famed Lake Palace and Jag Mandir. With the majestic City Palace gracing the eastern shore, Lake Pichola is the favourite of tourists. But Fateh Sagar is the “people’s lake”…a place that teams with local Indians out for a stroll and young men chatting in groups. They lick ice-cream cones, smoke beedis, and watch the girls go by. Channa Jor Garam is a Rajasthani snack (nasta in Hindi) that is a mixture comprised of puffed rice, onion, tomato, chick pea (channa), peanut (moonggphali), and a dash of drizzled lime (nimboo). The boys who sell this treat carry it with a stick balanced across their shoulders. Old paint cans are used as counterweights. Fire in a small clay pot is moved from place to place on the wooden tray to keep the ingredients warm. The young men who vend such snacks are an itinerant lot and seem to move quickly on to other employment. Our model in this photograph had come from outside the city to try his hand at making money in Udaipur. Strange to say that after this photograph was made we never saw him again. In the painted backdrop a lime and five green chillies (mirch) hang in the doorway…a traditional good luck charm intended to ward off evil forces.

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Looking for Rain, 2008

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Rajasthan is much greener than many imagine. Though it is climatically thought of as India’s desert state and is obviously much drier than other parts of the country, Rajasthan is hardly a barren waste of arid sand. Lush groves of mango trees flourish around the old stone wells of small villages, wheat and corn grow tall on rural farms, and fields of yellow mustard can be glanced from the roadside. The Aravali Mountains turn a rich green with the coming of the monsoon, and waterfalls cascade from what were formerly just cuts of arid rock. But in Rajasthan one becomes aware of the season for rain, and the acute need for a yearly replenishing of water for agriculture and drinking. More than once I have witnesses Udaipur’s lakes turn completely dry, with huge cracks appearing in the shrinking muds of the sun-baked lake bottom. Unlike India’s south, which is lucky to receive an abundance of water beginning as early as June, the monsoons come to Udaipur late. Sometimes the first real rainstorms are not felt until the middle of August or the beginning weeks of September. I hail from a Mid-Western state in America where rainfall is taken for granted. But at Chinar Villa I learned to scan the skies for any sign of dark cloud…to listen for any soft rumble of thunder echoing from the horizon. Like the farmer in this photograph I learned to wait patiently and eagerly for rain, knowing the survival of crops, livestock, people and communities depends upon it. The man in the picture is from a sturdy farming family whose land lies just beyond Udaipur. His face and hands speak of a lifetime of labour, while his keen eyes tell a tale of arcane knowledge…the knowledge to read the skies in a way most city people cannot.

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The Woodcutter, 2010 Every day in rural Rajasthan women head into the forest to collect branches and twigs as fuel for cooking and heating. Wood gathering is generally considered “women’s work”, and males avoid it. The exception to this is the men who cut down entire trees, chopping away at huge limbs with axe and saw. This young man’s name is Mayank. He is seen moving through the jungle, a large tree branch over his shoulder and his axe conveniently thrust into his jeans.

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Another Follower of Shiva, 2007 When it comes to travel photography the Indian sadhu is certainly one of the clichés of the genre. For that very reason I have avoided seeking them out as models. Yet to completely exclude them from my Studio in Rajasthan project would be to remove a common sight in the city from the scope of my work. Sadhus as individuals are a diverse group. Some are well-educated middleclass men who have renounced material wealth in their later years. Others are fervently religious in an unsmiling and fundamentalist sort of way, while others seem more akin to magicians and tricksters. My favourite sadhus have been those who are soft-spoken, reflective, and quietly, unassumingly, spiritual. Sadly I never got to know the man in this photograph. He was found by Tara and me in the winding streets of one of Udaipur’s bazaars. The trident he holds marks him as a follower of the powerful Lord Shiva. This sadhu’s incredible costume made it impossible to pass him by without offering an invitation to the studio. But throughout our encounter he remained stoically silent, a man who offered few words and even less information.

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A Secret between Friends, 2010

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On Fridays the streets of Udaipur fill with Muslim men on their way to attend the prayer services at some local masjid (mosque). All wear topi (cap) and simple white sherwani, and it is on this day that one realizes just how large the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s minority Muslim population really is. But there are also neighbourhoods where Muslims form the vast majority, and traditional Muslim dress is an everyday sight. Zenule Khan, the man who painted the cloth backdrop used in this photograph, copied the image from an old photo made during the 1850â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s by John Murray of Jami Masjid in Agra. But the image could well be a scene from parts of Rajasthan today. The two men, attendees of the masjid near Chinar Villa, talk about something that is shared only between them and the clay pot (mutka).

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The Mutka Chor, 2010 Truth is I have felt safe most everywhere I have travelled in India. I ended up employing a security guard at Chinar Villa only at the insistence of friends. I am told that thieves, or chor as it is said in Hindi, are a local menace…though I myself have never had a problem. At sunset people are warned to stay off the highways that lead outside the city, especially the lonely roads that lead to remote villages. Highway bandits, or dacoits, are said to place rocks on dark night-time roads, stopping travellers and robbing them at knife point. But during the five years I have lived in Udaipur I have not once had a problem. In spite of this, tales of chor and dacoit abound in Rajasthan, and to represent one seemed natural even if to my personal experience they were half mythical. Here muscular model Aslam is “caught in the act” of a simple pilferage of clay mutkas. The backdrop behind, once again painted by Zenule Khan, is the only backdrop we have used that depicts Udaipur’s famous Lake Palace.

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Naru with a Ravenhatha, 2007

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I knew Naru’s brother from Jaisalmer. His brother’s name is Jagdish, and I had photographed him years before. Jagdish makes an appearance in the book India Poems: The Photographs in the picture titled Rajasthani Man — Jaisalmer. Both brothers originally hailed from Jaipur. They played ravanhatha, the traditional instrument of nomadic musicians in Rajasthan. The stringed ravanhatha is played with a bow that has bells attached to its end, and an accomplished ravanhatha player creates music that is as much jingling rhythm as haunting melody. This is actually the first image produced at Chinar Villa that I considered completely successful. Others had preceded it, but it was with this image… and the feel it gives of having been made in a traditional Indian photo studio… that I embarked upon the series now known as A Studio in Rajasthan.

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Ganpat as a Village Man, 2008 Ganpat first came to Chinar Villa as a chowkidar (a night watchman). He was a handsome young student who spent his hours on security duty studying for exams…intently reading Hindi literature under the dim bulb of the villa’s front porch. His village was just outside Chittorgarh, better known to locals simply as “Chittor”, which was in fact the first capital of the Mewar state before its eventually defeat by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Quickly Ganpat ingratiated himself to the studio crew, and before long he had made the move from night watchman to personal assistant. But his village ties remained strong. His need to visit his village on a near weekly basis became a problem and I had to confront him one day with the simple question “Do you want to remain a village boy, or become an Udaipur man?” This seemed to do the trick and Ganpat’s much-too-frequent returns to his village came to an end. His desires were understandable though. Rajasthani men who grow up in a village keep the warmest feelings for their homes. For them the village represents supportive family, the most comforting food, the tranquil sentiments of their rural youth and ongoing obligations toward parents, sisters and the extended family. One day I coaxed Ganpat to pose as a “village man”. The photo is admittedly a bit of a spoof, as by this time Ganpat had progressed to being a rather sophisticated denizen of the city. The backdrop in this photograph was painted by Chiman Dangi and Ramdev Meena, themselves artists from the villages. The traditional tribal designs were in part copied from a photograph by legendary Indian artist Jyoti Bhatt.

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New Myths > Part of the psyche of the men of Rajasthan is inextricably linked to the inherited mythology associated with Hindu gods. The rich literature of India’s many religions forms a template and code of conduct for many Indian males. Lord Krishna speaks with authority and wisdom in the Bhagavad Gita, whereas the exploits of Lord Hanuman are told with reverence in the Ramayana. Recently we have begun a new series in the Udaipur studio that uses these legendary and much-loved characters as springboards to examine the cultural ethos which young Indian men must negotiate. There is an old Indian saying that goes, “He is a Ram in the house, but a Krishna on the street”. That phrase alludes to the expectations of fidelity and wholesomeness in the traditional Indian family, but acknowledges the playful flirtatiousness of men in the social sphere. New Myths: First Incarnation explores the sexual permissions and romantic indulgences that Krishna as role-model grants Rajasthani men. New Myths: Second Incarnation examines the aggressive side of masculinity as exemplified in the warrior god Lord Hanuman.

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waswo x. waswo >

> Waswo X. Waswo was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the U.S.A. He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Center for Photography, and Studio Marangoni, The Centre for Contemporary Photography in Florence, Italy. His book, India Poems: The Photographs, published by Gallerie Publishers in 2006, has been available worldwide. The artist has lived and travelled in India for more than ten years and he has made his home in Udaipur, Rajasthan, for the past five. There he collaborates with a variety of local artists including the photo hand-colourist Rajesh Soni. He has also produced a series of autobiographical miniature paintings in collaboration with the artist R. Vijay. Waswo is represented in India by Gallerie Espace, New Delhi, and in Thailand by Serindia Gallery, Bangkok.

selected solo exhibitions Men of Rajasthan: Serindia Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand, 2011 New Myths: Bombay Art Gallery, Bombay, India, 2010 A Studio in Rajasthan: Coromandel Art Gallery, Pondicherry, India, 2010 A Studio in Rajasthan: Galleria Joyce, Genoa, Italy, 2009 A Studio in Rajasthan: Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi, India, 2009 A Studio in Rajasthan: Kashi Art Gallery, Cochin, India, 2008 India Poems: The Photographs of Waswo X. Waswo: Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, U.S.A., 2007 India Poems: The Photographs: travelling exhibition at Alliance Franรงaise de Bangalore, Alliance Franรงaise de Goa, and Alliance Franรงaise de Colombo, 2003

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Selected Group Exhibitions: Darmstadt Tage der Fotografie Invitational Exhibition, Darmstadt, Germany, 2010 Lo Real Maravilloso (Marvelous Reality), New Delhi, India, 2009 The Monsoon Show, Gallery Nvya, New Delhi, India, 2009 The Calendar Art Project, Apparao Gallery, New Delhi, India, 2008 Books: A Three Megapixel Journal, Lulu, 2007 European Journal, Lulu, 2007 India Poems: The Photographs, Gallerie Publishers, 2006 India Poems, Seventy-five Poems by The American Photographer, Rooftop Vistas, 2004


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This digital issue is a sampler of Men of Rajasthan, a book accompanying the eponymous exhibition held at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok 27 January – 27 February 2011 Waswo X. Waswo’s hand-coloured photographs are available at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok, for viewing by appointment. contact:

Shane Suvikapakornkul Tel: +66 2 238 6410 Mobile: +66 89 495 5535 Email: serindiagallery@gmail.com www.serindiagaller y.com

The book is available at Serindia Gallery, Bangkok and online at: Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/dp/1932476520 Serindia.com http://www.serindia.com/item.cfm/609 >

© 2011 Texts and Images Waswo X. Waswo and Serindia Publications

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Men of Rajasthan by Waswo X. Waswo