Waking From Dreams of India
This work tells the story of my lifelong dream of exploring India, the land of my father's birth. He died without telling me much about the culture in which he grew up or the story of his early life there. Growing up in the United States, isolated from Indian culture fostered the cultivation of imaginative fantasy about the land of my ancestry. My knowledge of India ripened from exoticized Western media accounts. None of this prepared me for the discovery of the circumstances that drove my father away from his family as a teenager, or the actual masala mix of complexity, misery and beauty of contemporary India that I finally had the opportunity to see for myself. Having now made several trips, and collected a wealth of photographic images, videotape, and journal writings, I am shaping this material into a body of work that connects and contrasts my youthful fantasies of India with my adult experience building a relationship with the land of my ancestry. I hope to symbolize the merging of the actual lived journey with the expectations I carried for half a lifetime.
Through these new works, finished in September 2010, I am seeking a new perspective of my journeys through India. I have assembled sequences of images that represent my travels in both spatial and temporal dimensions. With the print works, the grid of images contains more visual information than the viewer can readily digest, and the video presents the images in a succession too rapid to allow anything but a cursory impression of the photographs. The fleeting duration of the images on the screen and the overwhelming number of images presented in the print grids speaks to my own difficulty reconciling my position as tourist when I travel to the country of my father’s origin. The intensity of visual information reflects the experience of navigating India’s urban spaces. The sound track of the video piece contains layered clips of music, street noise, and conversation in a variety of languages heard and recorded on my journeys through India. Rather than a coherent narrative, the audio track provides a dense soundscape that resists interpretation and comprehension. Like the hapless traveler in a foreign country, the viewer is immersed in an sensory overload that sometimes mystifies, excites, and repels with an incomprehensible babble of visual and auditory information that provides sensory immersion, yet lacks resolution or a clear narrative.
Beyond its representation of my travels, the work points to the unbridgeable chasms of identity shaped by the diasporic experience. My identity is neither American nor English, nor Indian, but exists in some kind of netherworld suspended between these three points of origin and influence. For my entire adult life I have had a recurring dream that I am looking for a place to live, exploring spaces that have been left abandoned by others. In every iteration of this dream, the location changes, but never offers a sign that this is the home for which I’ve been searching. Like this dream, the India of my travels is to me both familiar and incomprehensible, inviting exploration, but allowing no resolution for my search.
Neil Chowdhury is an artist working in photography and digital media. His work explores the relationships between individuals, their societies, and environments in different cultures. Currently, he is working on a project exploring his Indian heritage, entitled “Waking from Dreams of India.” Mr. Chowdhury is an assistant professor and director of the photography program at Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, New York. He has also taught at Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan; and the University of Washington, Seattle. He received his M.F.A. in photography at the University of Washington. His photography and digital video works have been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad.