In 1997, I traveled to India, working with a team of scholars to document the lives and work of a women’s cooperative in Lucknow called SEWA. It was a transformative experience. I spent time with, listened to and photographed women who were now redefining their lives. My colleagues, who were economists, anthropologists, social scientists, development and cultural theorists, began to lay out a detailed, causal matrix of factors that brought this cooperative to its current, generative state. Our task, funded and defined by the Center for Economic and Development Activities (CEDPA), was to design a model based on SEWA’s successes. In subsequent years, the model actually began to redefine my artistic practice and thinking.

Death is absolute in its presence and absence. This has been the perennial concern of all creative endeavors, and by making, the concern becomes one about enduring, about generating. My work always touches on the biographic – it must, because we are empathetic beings where identity and selfhood  is a mix of without and within. It speaks, as metaphor, to the social. I am concerned about the collision between our understanding and experiences of the individual versus the citizen, and how one can subsume the other. Thus, I have made work about emotional dissolution, that ultimately leads to a form of departure, in a series called ‘I Have Gone’. At the other end of this spectrum, ‘The Third Heaven’ is part of a long-term documentary project that maps Haiti’s history and socio-political ‘underdevelopment’ to US foreign policy and globalization.

This breadth of concerns is expressed by a variety of lens-based approaches that rely on technical and conceptual virtuosity –  a well crafted expression. I generate images with equipment ranging from cell- phone to large format 11×14 cameras, projected installations to prints on hand-sensitized photographic materials. Past projects have been shown as books, exhibitions, policy dossiers, and for community discussions and presentations. The more socially motivated work has assumed what may be described as a form of social practice. In Tanzania, Haiti and Jamaica, as well as in Tennessee, I am designing and implementing methods that use photography as a tool for building community.

While it may seem outdated, I cling to the radical feminist slogan of the personal being political: I believe that art-making stands to put into a shared place our most personal attitudes and most enduring concerns, and in doing so, is essentially a social practice. It follows then, that I am less concerned by (but can never reject) art as a self-expressive practice and more interested by the way it helps create bonds and connections. This interest is constant and without bounds. It defines and conditions what I do, and how I engage with and think about community. It informs my teaching. Most of all, it helps me consider our cognitive and philosophical limits; that horizon line of occlusion at the edge of life and death*. And that, ultimately, is a matter of beauty.

Pradip Malde, 2017

*Norman MacCaig, the Scottish poet, said it so much more eloquently, in his 1968 poem ‘Crossing the Border’:

Crossing the Border

I sit with my back to the engine, watching
the landscape pouring away out of my eyes.
I think I know where I’m going and have
some choice in the matter.

I think, too, that this was a country
of bog-trotters, moss-troopers,
fired ricks and roof-trees in the black night — glinting
on tossed horns and red blades.
I think of lives
bubbling into the harsh grass.

What difference now?
I sit with my back to the future, watching
time pouring away into the past. I sit, being helplessly
lugged backwards
through the Debatable Lands of history, listening
to the execrations, the scattered cries, the
falling of roof-trees
in the lamentable dark.