The addition of the thirty-four works in the Umesh and Sunanda Gaur Collection, with works by seventeen well-recognized artists from India and Pakistan, significantly expands the museum’s holdings of South Asian photography from the nineteenth century to the present. The subject matter and format of these photographs complement our archival collection of early Indian landscape and portrait photographs that circulated in popular ethnographic and tourist channels. With works dating from 1983 to 2013, the Gaur Collection not only documents South Asian contributions to the development of photography, but it also addresses critical issues affecting the broader global community.
Raghu Rai, a peer of Raghubir Singh and the first Indian member of Magnum Photos, was renowned for his work documenting daily life and the landscape across India, from Varanasi to Lakshwadeep Island. Ketaki Sheth, a student of Raghubir Singh, captures chaotic life on the streets of Mumbai, while Gigi Scaria examines the social and spatial impact of urban growth from the perspective of the rural migrant. For Atul Bhalla and Ravi Agarwal, the politics of water are constants in their works. Through serial photography and performance, both consider the historical, spiritual, and practical importance of the Yamuna River and its current endangered state. These artists and other photographers endeavor to understand place and tradition in a region that is being reshaped by increasing density, mass consumption, and ongoing cycles of construction and destruction.
South Asian artists continue to probe the enduring genre of portraiture. Conscious of the history of colonial period photography, Ram Rahman, Naveen Kishore, and Rashid Rana subvert the traditional emphasis on idealized types and instead explore the interaction between the photographic medium, the act of portrayal, and individual agency. Shilpa Gupta and Jitish Kallat offer stark critiques of today’s surveillance culture. Two prints by Vivan Sundaram from the series Retake of Amrita complement three prints in the Sackler collection and add iconic key images in the artist’s groundbreaking study of Amrita Sher-Gil, one of India’s greatest modern painters.