In my last post I put up some images of postcards I made while travelling in India and sent back to the V&A. Here are some more, and some thoughts about that activity.
Postcards offer idealised pictures. They have usually been manipulated so that colours are brighter, the light more dramatic, than in reality. They tell the stories which their manufacturers want us to receive.
The post cards which I took with me from London offered just such manipulated views. The skies were ultra-blue, the people and buildings air-brushed into a pristine state. The same was true of the cards I was able to buy in Mumbai and Delhi. They were images intended to promote these cities. The Indian museums, as in Britain, also sold images of their most engaging treasures. Scraps of one such image can be seen in the collage below.
Once I had cut the material up, I collaged the scraps onto the surfaces of yet more postcards. These were ready made blanks intended for watercolour painting. European travellers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used sometimes to paint small watercolour â??viewsâ??, frequently kept in albums. The blanks which I took, of similar size, carried that idea into the postcard format. For me, using the watercolour blanks called into play the history of European landscape â??viewsâ??, in which the travelling artist framed the world in â??picturesqueâ?? ways. I wanted to use the opportunity to subvert that, to question it.
While I made the cards I thought about the antique postcards of Indian â??scenesâ?? which I had seen in London, among other ephemera such as old advertising material, postcards and cigarette cards from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These old British-made cards were certainly telling their stories from the one-sided, controlling point of view of the colonial British. (For example, look at the old cigarette card used in the image above called â??Itâ??s my Cityâ??). By putting material from both sources, Britain and India, together in sharp juxtaposition, I hope that what I made evokes the infinitely more complex inter-relations of today.
By the time I came to make the card above I had arrived in Varanasi, the city of burning ghats lining the holy Ganges, and it was here I began to feel my displacement from my home. The card is disconsolate but making it helped me think about what people must go through when they leave their familiar worlds and migrate to a city unfamiliar to them, like London.