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India Foundation for the Arts
Newsletter Edition 38
January 2017 - March 2017
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Hello Readers!

India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) is back with news on our grantees and their projects between January, 2017 and March, 2017!

In this newsletter we look forward to sharing with you the activities at IFA over the past few months, and we hope you enjoy its contents which include updates on our various programmes — Arts Research, Arts Practice, Arts Education and the Archival and Museum Fellowships initiative. We have made exciting new grants and organised grant showcases in cities across the country!

Please do visit our website or follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates!
We would love to hear from you! Write to us at with any feedback or query.

The IFA Team

Programmes Publications
Events Point Of View
Announcements Support Us

Arts Research (AR)

The Arts Research programme is now accepting applications for the year 2017 – 2018!

The Arts Research programme supports scholars, researchers, and practitioners to undertake research into the various histories and expressions of artistic practices in India. It seeks to foster wider perspectives, understandings, interpretations and engagements in the arts.

Proposals are invited from researchers and practitioners who are interested in undertaking projects that could investigate marginalised or relatively unexplored areas; who intend to create spaces for dialogue between theory and practice; who offer new readings/frameworks of artistic practices; and who use interdisciplinary approaches to break new conceptual ground, among other things.

At IFA we encourage projects in Indian languages other than English, in order to contribute towards discourse building in multiple language contexts. Please do send in your applications in any Indian language.

For more information on the application process, eligibility requirements and other procedures, please follow the link.

The deadline for applications is June 15, 2017.

The Arts Research Programme for the years 2017 to 2019 is supported by Titan Company Limited.

Arts Practice (AP)

The Arts Practice programme witnessed a busy period of making grants, and organising many events showcasing the diverse work of our grantees. The programme seeks to establish a culture where arts practice is constantly being shaped and articulated through experimentation, critique and dialogue. The projects supported in this period exemplify this spirit.

In this period, IFA supported contemporary photographer Abul Kalam Azad to create a body of photographic works centered on the ‘Men of Poompuhar’, southern Tamil Nadu. His project, seeks to reflect on and engage with an ancient text – Ilango Adigal’s Silappadikaram - with a contemporary ‘lens’. Abul’s interest in the text is rooted in its sensorial appeal as it describes the landscape, people, lifestyle, flora and fauna, culture, seasons and their changing colours, aromas and sounds of the Poompuhar of the Sangam era. He seeks to revisit this place through his models – men from today’s Poompuhar – with the idea that the original inspirations behind the hero of the epic were the men of Poompuhar during the writing of the text. This project will culminate in a photo exhibition.

Musician and composer Shruthi Vishwanath received a grant to create compositions and performances based on the abhangs of women warkari saints of Maharashtra. Abhangs are spiritual poetry dedicated to the deity Vithoba or Vittala of Pandharpur, sung in the north Karnataka-Maharashtra regions. This grant will enable Shruthi to compose and perform 10 to 12 rare abhangs of the women saints whose voices have been marginalised in the history of this musical tradition. The compositions will be shaped by an intense period of research travelling across warkari sites in Maharashtra, meeting communities to understand the context of women composers, and accompanying the warkaris on the Pandharpur yatra to meet several groups of singers. The outcomes will be two music concerts and recordings of 10 to 12 songs.

Writer and actor Sapan Saran received a grant for research towards a theatre performance inquiring into notions of gender and identity in the field of athletics. Focussing on gender testing in the field, she seeks to understand gender as a spectrum rather than a binary, to challenge dominant narratives around gender. This project draws inspiration from the stories of female athletes around the world, but will revolve around the experiences of Sapan’s key interviewees, Santhi Soundararajan, a track and field athlete from Tamil Nadu, and Dutee Chand a sprinter from Orissa. The outcome of this grant will be a broad structure for a play and a possible script.

Researcher Vimal Krishnan R received support from IFA to create an interactive, three dimensional Virtual Reality installation based on the popular Keralan legend of Perumtachan’s temple pond. Fusing Legend and Locale: Reimagining Perumtachan’s Pond, is an effort to use virtual reality to interpret local legends. The legend of master builder Perumtachan, documented in a collection of Malayali legends – Aitheehyamala, is the story of a carpenter with supernatural skills who was commissioned to build a temple pond believed to have existed near the Mahadeva Temple of Uliyanoor in Aluva, Kerala. This pond appeared circular, square or triangular to the viewer, depending on the viewing angle, a wondrous element that Vimal seeks to recreate through this project. The outcomes of the project will be the interactive site specific installation and a research paper.

Krr Krr - First Lines. Work in progress from the grant made to Malavika PC

Illustrator and writer Malavika PC received support towards a series of workshops with Tamil speaking children to create a visual storytelling book that aims to challenge dominant notions of children’s books that put great importance on activity. Through this project tentatively titled Krr Krr, Malavika wants to also challenge the canonical understanding of the production of children’s books. According to Malavika, ‘idling’ is a ridiculed concept in children’s books, which are reduced to tools used to deliver a ‘message’. She wants to question this popular understanding by making a book in collaboration with children that represents their abstracted and contemplative worlds. The fully illustrated picture book will chronicle a lily in a pond from sunset to sunrise, noting subtle changes and shifts in the environment. The outcome of this grant is a book and an exhibition with original artworks from the book.

Please do note that the Arts Practice programme of IFA is the only programme that does not follow a calendar, with our Request for Proposals being open all year round. Visit our website for more information on the programme, and apply in any language, with your exciting projects.

Arts Education (AE)

The Arts Education programme, called Kali-Kalisu, translated as ‘learn and teach’ from Kannada, focusses on arts-based training for teachers from government schools and support for projects that integrate arts-based learning into the curriculum. This aim is fulfilled through training for teachers and administrators working in state education in Karnataka, and grants made to artists and teachers to work in particular school contexts. Our work, over 8 years in the field of education, places the ‘teacher’ at the centre of this process. This belief finds echoes in our training programmes and other initiatives where we seek to provide an inclusive approach to arts-based education, including building connections of the teacher to the larger arts environment in the country.

Thus, we undertook a journey with 24 teachers from Government Schools across Karnataka towards a joint exploration of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 this March. This initiative attempted to expose the teachers to national and international contemporary arts practices; enabling them to engage with the artworks on display with a critical eye, and helping them make possible connections between the artwork and teaching in their local school contexts.

Teachers at the Kochi Biennale 2016

The Biennale provided the perfect opportunity for such an investigation, with its mix of locations – combining existing galleries and halls, site-specific installations in public spaces, heritage buildings and disused structures. The variety of mediums employed by the artists including film, installation, painting, sculpture, new media and performance art contributed to passionate discussions post the visit.

In this period we also made two grants to teachers Satish KC from Shimoga district and Satyana Kodheri from Udupi district, Karnataka. Satish received a grant to work with the eighth grade students of the Government High School at Malur, Tirthahalli Taluk, Shimoga. The students will explore texts from the school syllabus by interpreting it through the poly-vocal rendition of Vadapu which is used in the performance of Puravanthike, a folk art form from the region. Through this process they will consider multiple possibilities of creating performance pieces. The outcome will be a stage performance which will be presented at two to three school venues. Satyana received support towards a project with the students of the fourth standard at the Government Higher Primary School, Maravanthe, Kundapura Taluk, Udupi. This project is an attempt at bridging the gap in arts-based learning under the Government of Karnatka’s Nali Kali programme. Through a series of workshops Satyana will engage educationists, artists and designers to guide teachers and children in creating a self-learning kit that connects their local environment to their syllabus. The outcomes will be the learning kit and a performance.

The capacity building initiative at Kochi and the grants made to the teachers are part of the Arts Education programme 2016-17, supported by Citi India.

Archival and Museum Fellowships (AMF)

The Archival and Museum Fellowships initiative observed a flurry of activity, with 4 new fellowships made in association with two institutions – the Assam State Museum and Kalakriti Archives, Hyderabad; and events including a film screening, workshop and panel discussion!

The Archival and Museum Fellowships aim to activate collections in museums and archives in India, through curatorial and artistic interventions. The fellowships awarded in this period reflect this need to make our museum spaces more dynamic, with fellowships made towards engaging the local community and interventions that seek to re-imagine these collections.

The Assam State Museum has a large collection of over 15,000 objects from the region, housed in 14 galleries! Founded by the Kamrupa Anusandhan Samity in 1940, the museum was taken over by the Government of Assam in 1953. Architect and curator Sayantan Maitra Boka received a fellowship for research into the Naga collection at the museum. The project aims to study the objects which form an integral part of the culture and tradition of the Naga tribes. Sayantan will curate a series of interdisciplinary events that will locate these objects in the complex and volatile living history of the Nagas. The outcome will be a series of events throughout the year including exhibitions and public programmes around the Naga collection.

Desire Machine Collective, comprising of Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain, received a fellowship that supports the creation of a new discourse around the museum and its collection. Based in Guwahati, the collective has been actively engaged in art activities that reflect the political, psychological and intellectual effects of capitalist power structures. Research is an important part of their practice and it crosses boundaries between art, environmental science, architecture, urban design and cultural thinking. Accordingly, this projects aims to ‘de-colonise’ the cultural memory in the museum and open up the space for popular and indigenous knowledges. It will also attempt to re-imagine Assam both in its geographical and historical construct, as a link that connects South with Southeast Asia. The outcome will be a series of events around objects from the entire collection in the museum, throughout the year, including artistic interventions, installations, exhibitions, workshops, presentations, talks and video screenings.

Researcher Shubhasree Purkayastha received a fellowship to explore the period prior to the arrival of the Ahom rulers in 13th century Assam, through select objects in the entire collection of the museum. The project aims to highlight the rich cultural legacies of the region, the Sanskritisation of Assam, and the ways in which regional histories like that of Assam have played a major role in the larger mainstream histories of the country. The outcome will be a series of events such as lectures and small exhibitions around objects, which will contribute to a large temporary exhibition at the end of the fellowship period.

François Valentijn (1666-1727). Copper engraving with hand colour of the Hooghly-Chinsura, West Bengal.
From the Kalakriti Archives

The Kalakriti Archives house an impressive collection of maps, including the ‘Munn Maps’, a collection of municipal maps of Hyderabad, which will be the focus of sociologist Sirisha Indukuri research at the archive. The ‘Munn Maps’ of the city were commissioned by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1908 after the devastating floods in the city, and created under the supervision of Leonard Munn, an engineer who was the chief inspector of mines under the Nizam regime. The study proposes to use the survey maps as tools to explore the non-physical aspects of the city’s topography. Using landscape as text, and oral histories, the project will provide insights into the social and cultural geographies of particular neighbourhoods in the city. The outcomes could include a series of events like lectures, discussions, workshops, and a paper.

We presented a panel at the Asia-Europe Museum Network (ASEMUS) 7th General Conference – ‘Engaged Museums: Technology, Access and New Audiences’, on March 16, 2017 at the National Museum, New Delhi. ASEMUS is a cross-cultural network of museums with Asian Collections, which promotes mutual understanding through collaborative activities, and works towards facilitating the sharing and use of museum collections. The panel ‘Connecting with Collections’ presented by Latika Gupta and Abeer Gupta was moderated by Suman Gopinath, Programme Executive for the Archival and Museum Fellowships initiative. Abeer, an assistant professor at Ambedkar University and research scholar and independent curator Latika Gupta, talked about making accessible the collections at the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum of Central Asian and Kargil Trade Artifacts, Kargil and the National Museum, New Delhi, respectively.

This period also witnessed two events, part of the ongoing fellowship by curator Supriya Menon, at the Kerala Museum. The film A Far Afternoon: A painted saga by Krishen Khanna, directed by Sruti Harihara Subramanian, which explores the journey of creating the eponymous work, was screened on January 22, 2017. A unique workshop, by Priya Kuriyan, a children's books illustrator, comic book artist and animator, guided participants through the art of storytelling with comics. The two day workshop on March 4 and 5, 2017 focussed on the theme of migration, and encouraged participants to explore works at the museum, including the exhibition – Shifting Narratives – curated by fellow, Supriya Menon.

Workshop by Priya Kuriyan at the Kerala Museum.
Part of a series of events from the fellowship awarded to Supriya Menon

The Archival and Museum Fellowship initiative for the years 2015 – 2018 is supported by the Tata Trusts.

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We organise presentations, performances, panel discussions, film screenings and more, as Grant Showcases to share the work of our grantees, across the country. Below is a succinct narrative of our many engagements through the last few months.

Muktidham, a new play by playwright and director Abhishek Majumdar based on the history of conflict between Buddhism and Hinduism in the 8th century, premiered in Bangalore at Ranga Shankara on January 27 continuing through the 28th and 29th, 2017. The play had its Mumbai opening at Prithvi Theatre on the weekend of February 04 and 05, 2017.

Still from the play Muktidham, from the grant made to Abhishek Majumdar

A presentation entitled, ‘Feminist Street Theatre – Histories and Stories’ was organised by IFA in collaboration with Lamakaan, Hyderabad on January 20, 2017, by Deepti Priya Mehrotra. The presentation examined nuances of feminist street theatre during the 1970s & 80s, in Delhi.
Sampurna Trust received a grant, with Deepti Priya Mehrotra as the Principal Investigator, under the Arts Research programme of India Foundation for the Arts, with part support from South Asia Women’s Fund.

We are delighted with the response of audiences in three cities, Dharwad, Hyderabad and Bangalore, to the Mir Musicians from Rajasthan. The Mir community of musicians received support from IFA to reinvigorate their musical traditions. The musicians performed in Dharwad on January 19, 2017, at Lamakaan, Hyderabad on January 20 and 21, 2017 and at Freedom Park, Bangalore on January 23, 2017.
These performances are part of The Baba Farid Mir Project, funded by Infosys Foundation.

The Mir Musicians perform at Freedom Park, Bangalore

We organised an event testing a multi-media board game at What About Art Residency, Studio 5, Mumbai on January 22, 2017, to test the multi-player board game created by artist Gayatri Kodikal, which is an immersive investigation of an unresolved history based on speculations around the remains of Queen Ketevan of Georgia in Goa.
Gayatri received support from India Foundation under our Arts Practice programme, with support from Tata Steel.

We organised the book launch of Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers a book on press photography as an art form in the Kashmir Valley, curated by Sanjay Kak in Delhi on February 15, 2017, and Bangalore at February 23, 2017.
This project was part supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, under their Culture in Defiance programme; and India Foundation for the Arts, under the Arts Research programme.

Images from the book launch of Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers, Bangalore,
from the grant made to Sanjay Kak

We are happy to have been a part of the 25th Kankavli Natyautsav in Kankavli on February 16 and 18, 2017 with two IFA supported plays, F-1/105 by Aasakta Kalamanch, Pune and Akshayambara by Dramanon, Bangalore. F-1/105 explores the many meanings of the colour 'green', while Akshayambara studies the many nuances of gender within the male-dominated practice of Yakshagana.
F-1/105 and Akshayambara were made possible by grants from India Foundation for the Arts, under its Arts Practice programme. Akshayambara received part support from Voltas Limited.
The performances of Akshayambara and F1/105 at Kankavli Natyutsav 2017 were made possible with support from India Foundation for the Arts and Titan Company Limited.

We presented photographer Zubeni Lotha’s work, ‘Looking At the Tree Again’ at MF Husain Art Gallery, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi on March 28, 2017. Zubeni’s exhibition is a reinterpretation of Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf’s photographic representation of the Konyak Nagas.
Zubeni Lotha received a grant from India Foundation for the Arts under the Arts Research programme, with support from Titan Company Limited.

We organised a fundraiser at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore with Riding Madly Off In All Directions, a play by Motley on March 30, 2017. The play, featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Heeba Shah, Imaad Shah and Vivaan Shah staged Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock's satirical work.
This fundraiser was made possible with the sponsorship of the State Bank of India.

Still from Riding Madly Off In All Directions, a play by Motley, Bangalore

We organised two MaathuKathes, meaning Conversations in Kannada, with filmmaker Natasha Mendonca and writer Raja Sinha. We screened Ajeeb Aashiq/Strange Love by Natasha, which chronicles shape shifting in a city that constantly changes – Mumbai, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. Raja talked about his writing process and the context of his work, interspersed with snippets read from his short story collection, Postcard Golpo.

MaathuKathe - (L) Natasha Mendonca; (R) Raja Sinha

IFA launched Catalyst – Arts an Inspiration for Excellence, in November, 2015. Catalyst is a unique initiative, which brings together eminent artists, who will share their experiences about their pursuit of excellence, at corporate venues. As part of this initiative, we have partnered with corporate houses, including Biocon Limited, Sasken Communication Technologies, Centum Electronics, Cisco Systems Inc, and Titan Company Limited. In the last few months musician Rahul Ram and actor and theatre practitioner Arundhati Nag conducted sessions at Cisco Systems Inc and Centum Electronics, respectively; while through the year we have also had artists Sanjna Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Arundhati Nag, Atul Dodiya, Nandita Das, Romi Khosla, Raghu Rai, Malavika Sarukkai, Aditi Mangaldas, Jitish Kallat, and Shekar Gupta share about their experiences with the arts.

If you would like to know more about this initiative, or partner with us, please contact:

Upcoming Events

There are several upcoming events spread out across the country, and we look forward to seeing some of you in the audience!

bird_bullet On May 14, 2017 IFA in association with G5A will launch Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers, a book on press photography as an art form in the Kashmir Valley curated by Sanjay Kak at G5A, Mumbai.

bird_bullet On May 15, 2017 IFA in association with People Tree will launch Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016: 9 Photographers, a book on press photography as an art form in the Kashmir Valley curated by Sanjay Kak at 6 Assagao, Goa.

bird_bullet On May 11, 2017 IFA will welcome the By 2 Blues, a blues band to our office, Bangalore for a session of classic blues and a bit of blues-rock in their highly original style!

bird_bullet On May 27, 2017 IFA in association with Tamaasha brings to Mumbai a presentation of work by artists Afrah Shafiq and Vishwajyoti Ghosh, and researcher Sujaan Mukherjee. Sujaan, Afrah and Vishwajyoti received fellowships from IFA to work with the archives at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

For more details on these events, do sign up for our emails here, follow us on facebook or Twitter for regular updates, or simply tune into our website at:

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We invite proposals for our Arts Research and Arts Practice programmes.

bird_bullet Arts Research
Request for Proposals from artists and scholars
[Deadline: June 15, 2017]
For more information, write to the Programme Executive at

bird_bullet Arts Practice
Request for Proposals from practitioners
[No Calendar]
For more information, write to the Programme Executives at

Do apply and spread the word!

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We offer an range of publications for sale including a book on reimagining the space for performance – Beyond the Proscenium, a book on repurposing the Kantha – Embroidering Futures, and issues of Art Connect – a magazine on the arts in India, published between 2008 and 2013, with issues covering diverse art forms and featuring the thoughts of prominent writers, artists and scholars.
To know more and buy copies please click here

We also sell postcards featuring the work of our grantees. These stunning postcards offer a glimpse into some of the intriguing projects supported by IFA over the past 20 plus years. Buy your copy today!

Postcards PostcardsPostcards Postcards
‘Ant’s Perspective’ story, illustrated by Kutshezo Naro
Photo: Courtesy
Tshetsholo Naro
A participant examines an Indonesian puppet during Anurupa Roy's introduction to shadow puppetry. at the 'Image
& Word: Workshop On Storytelling'.
Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Moskovchuk
Cover page of Marathi Little Magazine Rucha
Jesus painted in the style of Ajanta, water colour on paper
Canvas print: Courtesy Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture, St Xavier’s College Mumbai
Suggested contribution: Rs 200
To buy copies, please click here

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point of view

Zubeni Lotha received a grant to study the construction of identity by representation through photographic images. The project will focus on the photographs of the Konyak Nagas by ethnologist Christoph von Furer- Haimendorf that is responsible for creating the archetypal Naga stereo-type. The outcome of this research will be an exhibition.
This grant was made possible with support from Titan Company Limited.

Zubeni is a photographer from Nagaland. She has published work in Outlook Traveller and The Caravan, and has contributed to the New York Times India blog and the Random House blog. Zubeni’s practice as a photographer attempts to capture flashes of tribal life in Nagaland, preserving moments from a way of life that is on the decline in the face of rapid socio-economic changes. Her work, How Do I look, questions the idea of Naga culture, identity and representation. Zubeni’s ongoing project Dimapur 797112, about her hometown of Dimapur was exhibited in Delhi, in 2012.

IFA: What is the archetypal-stereotype of the Konyak Nagas you are attempting to re-articulate within your project? Was Christoph von Furer- Haimendorf the only one who contributed to this stereotype? If not, please do elaborate further on the ways in which this stereotype has circulated through time.

Zubeni Lotha: In my opinion ‘Nagas’ have become almost synonymous with ‘head hunting’ or ‘head-hunters’. The Konyak’s are especially prone to this definition because of Christoph von furer-Haimendorf. I have attempted to look at Haimendorf’s photographs not because his is the only one but because he was the first ethnographer to document the Nagas with a particular study of the Konyaks. He lived a year with them and took hundreds of photograph as part of his field study. It is these photographs that have greatly interested me. It is available on an online database along with his diary, which I have looked at along with his photographs and it is very revealing. Many of the photographs were staged, especially the photographs depicting the headhunting raid or ceremonial dance. Many of the bare-chested women were also staged although some were candid. Most of the women were shy and not willing to be photographed according to his diary. But one cannot know these things by looking at the photographs. The photos are fantastic images of men and women in rich ceremonial or traditional costumes against a clear sky or landscape. And because of the headhunting history and later with the insurgent movement in Naga history there has been a tendency to depict the Nagas as fierce tribal warriors in a conflict area. They created a certain stereotype in the imagination, of violent tribal men or exotic tribal women There are plenty of these stereotypical images of the Nagas in their traditional costumes with a spear in their hand ready for warfare or the women half naked in their colourful costumes. These images are reproduced over and over in popular media both by ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’. The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland is a popular festival where tourists are welcomed to view the culture of the Nagas where many of these photographs are reproduced for the ‘exotic’ effect. And I think such stereotyping has limited our understanding of the Nagas. Haimendorf may have started this but others after him are carrying on this tradition of exoticising the Nagas till today.

Image from Zubeni's project

IFA: In your project you are looking at the ‘photographic encounter’ that changed the way people looked at themselves. Please elaborate on what you see as the lasting effects of this encounter on the way the Nagas view themselves. How is your work engaging with this ‘encounter’?

Zubeni Lotha: As part of my project I have visited some of the villages in the Konyak region and other villages that are not of that region. Many of the villages are still quite wild and natural apart from the interference of modernity like mobile towers, satellite television, cement houses instead of thatch roofs and bamboo walls. The roads are bad, the region is mountainous, resources are few and life is hard. But people are proud of their culture and are always willing to ‘dress-up’ for the camera. Many are shy to be photographed but the willing ones would like to dress in their costumes. And when asked why, the response is that it is a mark of their identity. In the Konyak areas many are aware of the interest in their culture and they try to live up to the imagination of the visitors by trying to keep some of the tradition intact. I believe the Konyak region is one of the most popular tourist spots in Nagaland and somehow, even if in the most smallest way, this can be attributed to Haimendorf.

I tried to photograph very differently from Haimendorf. So I decided that no one would be in traditional costumes, and I would not use typical Naga motifs like the skull or traditional huts/morungs etc. But as the work progressed I realized that by doing away with all of that I was not being honest in my representation of the people. So I started to look at the people, environment, landscape, details, etc as they were; objects and subjects existing side by side in everyday life. I have felt in this project that many of the objects that I have seen or photographed are also found in museums. The Nagas are studied by anthropologists and often represented as culturally interesting people or a community exemplifying ‘simple’ society. But what is not often understood is that the Nagas are living this reality and there is much complexity within that reality which is not often shown. I tried to address that in my work. My style of photographing became almost documentary in the classical sense. But I also looked at the things and details, which may not be typical and I almost did away with classical portraiture, although I did take some photos, I did not think it fit into the narrative of this project. I was photographing what I could see as their lived reality but also tried to photograph details that make up the fabric of their culture or life.

Image from Zubeni's project

IFA: Photography was a big part of building the stereotype of the Konyak Naga. Please tell us more about the many ways in which your project, which is based in photography once again, seeks to undo the lasting effects of Furer- Haimendorf’s portrayal?

Zubeni Lotha: The problems I have with Haimendorf’s photograph is the way he has framed them, his composition/perspective and finally the choice of photos that feature in his book The Naked Nagas. Often when looking at a photographic project one is forced to start questioning the edit, why a certain photograph has been chosen over others, etc. But with his photographs a sense of a narrative is lost to me. There are no photographs leading me to the next and the next but rather it was more like looking at the same type of photos only in different settings or showcasing different costumes. So, I felt that he was documenting without trying to tell the story of the people or place, focussing on one aspect of their culture or life. I think the headhunting and what he saw as a very ‘primitive’ society fascinated him. The men and women living so freely as compared to the rigid Victorian morals he must have come from. Looking at the photographs one could not sense that change was happening and headhunting was not the norm. And that there were moral codes guiding their everyday lives.

Initially, when I started the project I really wanted to directly confront Haimendorf's photographs through my own work. At first I wanted to construct some portraits against the background of his portraits to create a strong contrast of the past and the present. But this was not to be as I continued with the project, because studying and photographing one type of culture or people is not one or even two-dimensional. It is much more complex and I don’t think one can ever understand it enough to create a body of work about it. I began questioning the very definition of identity and culture. I photographed the small details that seemed meaningless. I looked at a stone for example but when you got to the story of the stone it became clear that this is as much a part of the culture as the headhunting stories. In this project I have attempted not a clear straight forward body of work but rather an abstract way of looking, because to me that’s what culture or identity is, a complex and abstract idea.

Image from Zubeni's project

IFA: Please tell us more about the outcome of this grant and how you hope it will contribute to the dialogue around representation.

Zubeni Lotha: This project has been an enriching experience for me. I went into this project with a definite assumption but it went through a process of change and I finally came out with a very different outlook. I was ready to charge Haimendorf directly when I started out but in the course of my project I have found that there is an element of truth to his photographs and this led me to question my own practice - stepping out of his shadows almost. It made me look at my own photographic practices too, especially the concept of portraiture and I had to re-think my understanding of images and its construction. I believe that image construction plays a vital role in representation and the Naga identity, as we understand it today is maybe one example of that I think. I understand that if I see Haimendorf's photographs as creating certain kinds of stereotypes than I have to take into account that my own work could be doing the same thing. I hope this work can show that identity, representation, and culture are all ideas that are complex and abstract. These things are constructed, created many times by forces beyond our control. I have tried to debunk the idea of one-dimensional ‘Naga’ as much as I can.

Image from Zubeni's project

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Support Us

India Foundation for the Arts makes grants to artists, scholars and institutions throughout the year. For all these exciting projects to take shape, we have to constantly raise funds. We would like to thank our donors who have supported us and made the many projects possible in the last few months. We would especially like to acknowledge the support from State Bank of India and Titan Company Limited in this quarter.

You can support and engage with IFA in many ways—by becoming a Friend of IFA or a Donor Patron or even by sponsoring our fundraising events and by spreading the word about IFA. Every contribution counts.

bird_bullet   Become a Friend of IFA
Support us by becoming a Friend of IFA. As a Friend, you will be contributing directly to philanthropy in the arts and increasing the presence of the arts in public life. It starts at just 3,500/- a year and your donation is tax-deductible under 80G. You will receive exclusive access to IFA events and our Annual Reports. Become a Friend of IFA.

bird_bullet   Become a Donor Patron
We invite you to donate generously and join IFA's Donor Patron Circles and be a part of the IFA family. By joining IFA's Donor Patron Circles, you can choose to contribute directly to our Corpus or support a specific grantee whose work is of interest to you; you can underwrite operational costs or extend your support to any one of our programmes. Donor Patron circles include Platinum, Gold and Silver categories. Patrons receive a mention in our Annual Report; get exclusive access to IFA events and more. Learn more about our Donor Patron Circle.

bird_bullet   You can support us by sponsoring our events, inviting our grantees to showcase their work at your workplace or home, or even attending our events, and forwarding this newsletter to your friends who are interested in the arts. If you would like to support IFA in anyway, please contact Menaka Rodriguez at

bird_bullet   You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Youtube. Stay tuned to know more about our projects, initiatives and exciting events!

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