Campsite for the Non-Citizen
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Exhibition Statement, The University Art Gallery, Sewanee.
Much of my work is about a search for stillness and belonging, in a world that seems, despite a predominance of reductive and empirical paradigms, awry and adrift on a sea of chaos. Jorge Louis Borges, in one of his poems (‘Las Cosas’ from Elogio de la Sombra, 1969), describes objects as though they occupy a silent realm which is poised to serve its human occupant. Once used and put aside, these objects wait, patiently, until they are used again. Implicit in this idea, wistful and fantastical though it may be, is the understanding that a connection exists between the objects in any given environment and the person occupying that space, and that this relationship ultimately begins to describe and define a subtle, highly nuanced aspect of the persona and by extrapolation, society and culture. This idea comes from William Blake’s consideration of the realm of the Imagination.
Photography, born of space, time, and the realm of objects and actualities, capitalizes on this connection between the inanimate and animate. It can render the same sort of visual clues as those offered up when a diviner reads an oracle, or when an individual seeks wisdom and insight from mythological narratives. The process of divining establishes links between realms of time and existence that normally seem disparate and even irreconcilable. It suggests correspondences between microcosms and macrocosms, and between the past and future. All of these aspects seem counter to the empirical and reductive approaches that so dominate Western culture.
My still life work has often touched on these correspondences and I have taken this idea further with the work here, which engages with the relationship between object and person and between ‘belonging’ and citizenship. Citizenship prescribes a give and take between individuals and the State at one level. At a subtler, more nuanced level, it assumes a historical and cultural relationship between events, objects, spaces and the individual. In my case, through a sequence of numerous events, I have arrived at a strange point. A Tanzanian by location of birth and upbringing, an Indian by ethnicity and heritage, and an American and British citizen by circumstance and fact, I now find myself wondering what it means, in the greater realm of experience, to be bounded, placed, re-located, defined by paper, defined by the whims of a few, defined by political and ephemeral currents, defined by notions and appearance, and defined by what one should and should not say.
We live, I think, in tragic times. Tragic, not so much because of our continuing inability to be compassionate and humane, but tragic because we run the risk of juxtaposing reductionism and reason against that which cannot be explained and is beyond reason. I hope to present, as have others, work that conjoins rather than juxtaposes these paradigms with what actually is. Thus, I sincerely hope that the work before you places the microcosmic experience within a larger context of cultural references, commentary and propriety, and ultimately contributes towards a greater fellowship of souls, a more global citizenship.
Sewanee, August 2003