Priya Kambli: Color Falls Down and Kitchen Gods

In support of this year’s New Works Photography Fellowship Award Exhibition and to share the work of this year’s photographers with the online community, En Foco partners with juror Michael Mazzeo to highlight their work in a series of blog posts. For more information, preview the exhibition catalog.

Blog post 1 of 5.

© Priya Kambli, Muma (Dress), Color Falls Down series, 2012

Priya Kambli left her home in India at the age of 18 shortly after the death of her parents. With all her belongings in a single suitcase, she arrived in the United States in 1993, eventually settling in Missouri where she lives today. While she quickly adapted to her new environment, the birth of her son signaled yet another chapter in her life as she became uncomfortably aware that his childhood would be vastly different than that of her own. She would become the link between the between the customs of her parents and those of a thoroughly modern world, grafting a new branch onto the family tree.

© Priya Kambli, Dadi Aaji and Mama, Color Falls Down series, 2011

Color Falls Down is Kambli’s effort to reconcile the cultural dualities that helped form her identity. It is a conversation with her ancestors and a history more accessible through genealogical remains than the power of recollection. In this work, she mines the past and present for artifacts denoting momentous occasions and occasional moments in her life and the lives of her forebears. At the foundation lie the vintage family photographs and precious belongings which she combines with self-portraits and pictures from everyday life in Missouri. With this curious amalgam of imagery she reinvents the family album as if to re-direct her destiny.

© Priya Kambli, Mama, Kitchen Gods series, 2012

Kambli’s assemblages are not easily forgotten. Like memories emerging from the subconscious, they whisper and tease with fragmented images and uncertain references. Photographs are selected with care and reverence and organized intuitively, while new ones are created with specific intent. Self-portraits of various degrees of recognition suggest an unresolved identity and a disconnection from her lineage, while simple domestic objects are lovingly proposed as contemporary equivalents to traditional heirlooms.

© Priya Kambli, Muma (Blue Dibiya), Color Falls Down series, 2009

The hand of the artist is clearly visible throughout the work. Borrowing from Rangoli, a traditional Indian art, Kambli often adds intricate designs of stenciled flour. These decorative elements selectively obscure or fetishize characters in her story, emphasizing the role of the woman as a figure of authority. Similar patterns are seen in the ornate textiles brought from India. They appear repeatedly, resonating like a mantra, adding coherence, and enriching the emotional timbre of the project. The artist’s mother left a physical imprint, as well. In at least two family portraits, her face has been removed, cut out as Kambli recalls from childhood, by Muma herself. In another, she retouched her passport photo, turning gray hair blue, possibly the result of black ink fading over time. Just to the left is an image of a letter, handwritten by Muma, onto which Kambli has fashioned a rhythmic latticework of flower petals. The piece shows both women leaving indelible marks of their enduring presence.

© Priya Kambli, Muma (Dear Suresh), Color Falls Down series, 2011

Within Kambli’s assemblages, individual pictures share common elements, offering clues to oblique references. In one formal portrait, a circular cake of turmeric placed precisely over the face of her mother masks her identity. It could easily be read as a portrait of the artist. Immediately to the right is photograph of concentric circles formed by an elliptical arrangement of saffron-colored toy train tracks. Together the images suggest the eternal female and the continuous circle of life and rebirth.

© Priya Kambli, Muma (Tumeric), Color Falls Down series, 2009
© Priya Kambli, Me (Golden Dibiya), Color Falls Down series, 2009

Kambli shows us that history is pliable – a medium to be worked and shaped to conform to current realities. Her enchanting opus is a tale of self-examination and transcendence. In brilliant fashion, she has woven a sublime narrative while creating a new mythology spanning generations and crossing cultural boundaries. Through it she honors family, mourns loss and absence, and ordains her children as rightful heirs to her fable.

–Michael Mazzeo, New Works #15 Guest Juror

© Priya Kambli, Dadi Aajooba and Me, Color Falls Down, 2008
© Priya Kambli, Dadi Aaji and Me, Color Falls Down series, 2008
© Priya Kambli, Meena Atya and Me, Kitchen Gods series, 2012
© Priya Kambli, Dada Aajooba and Dadi Aaji (Yellow Petals), Color Falls Down series, 2011
© Priya Kambli, Baba (Muma’s Bangles), Color Falls Down series, 2012
© Priya Kambli, Sona and Me, Color Falls Down series, 2012
© Priya Kambli, Aaji, Color Falls Down series, 2012
© Priya Kambli, Muma and Me (Gold Earrings), Color Falls Down series, 2009
© Priya Kambli, Muma, Baba and Me, Color Falls Down series, 2008
© Priya Kambli, Dada Aajooba, Muma and Me, Color Falls Down series, 2008

Priya Kambli is the recipient of En Foco’s #15th New Works Photography Fellowship Awards, an annual program selecting three or more U.S. based photographers of Latino, African or Asian heritage, and Native Peoples of the Americas and Pacific, through a national call for entries. The New Works program helps artists to create or complete an in-depth photographic series exploring themes of their choice, and provides the infrastructure needed for national visibility and a professional exhibition of their new work in the New York area. More about her at her En Foco Photographers page and her website

Priya’s work is on view as part of New Works #15, at Calumet Photographic in Manhattan, through June 23, 2012. Please join us Thursday, June 14, 6-8 pm for the opening reception and Saturday, June 16, 2-3:30 pm for the artist talk.

Michael Mazzeo is a gallerist, educator and photographer based in New York City. He serves on the faculties of the School of Visual Arts, the International Center of Photography, New Jersey City University, and has been a guest lecturer at other prestigious institutions. He has been a featured portfolio reviewer at Fotofest, Review Santa Fe, Photolucida, Critical Mass, FotoWeek DC, The Center of Photography at Woodstock, ICP, ASMP, SPE, powerHouse Books, and Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

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