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 www.priyakambli.com

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. www.mazzeoprojects.com


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Celebrating New Works #15

© Priya Kambli, Dada Aajooba and Dadi Aaji (Yellow Petals), Color Falls Down series.

On June 4th, our annual New Works Photography Fellowship Awards Exhibition opened at Calumet Photographic in Manhattan, featuring the work of fellowship winners Alejandro Durán and Priya Kambli and honorable mention winners Adam Amengual, Christine Nguyen, and Brenda Perry.

We hope you will take a trip to Calumet to see the work, which is on view until June 23rd – and of course join us for the opening reception and meet the artists on Thursday, June 14th from 6-8pm. 

We are delighted to partner with juror and Mazzeo Projects director Michael Mazzeo to share the work of the New Works #15 artists with our online community through a five-part series of blog posts. This first post, shares Michael’s words about what inspired him about these five talented artists:

It is a honor to have been asked to jury the New Works Photography Fellowship Awards and I’d like to thank En Foco’s Executive Director, Miriam Romais as well as the Staff and Board of Directors for granting me the opportunity to participate in this important program.

As with any photography competition, a successful outcome is determined  by the quality of the work submitted, and by all standards, this year’s entrants provided a formidable selection of portfolios from which to choose.  Still, it is not a simple task to select one artist among many or to anoint one body of work as more important than another, especially when the pool of talent is deep and the ideas expansive.

© Alejandro Durán’s Washed Up series

The submissions to the 15th New Works Photography Fellowship Awards were all I hoped they would be and everything I’ve come to expect from En Foco. The artists contributed projects of social and cultural significance while deftly addressing global issues from personal and prescient points of view. At a time when financial crises threaten the world and our political system has devolved into a dysfunctional game of ruthless, bipartisan vitriol, the En Foco community has responded with socially conscious statements far removed from common rhetorical chatter. Their work delivers us to a meditative state in which we are asked to open our minds and seek not answers, but possibilities. Their art is our refuge, built on a foundation of common cause.

The artists selected for the En Foco Awards––Priya Kambli, Alejandro Durán, Brenda Perry, Adam Amengual, and Christine Nguyen––each employ contemporary strategies to further their ideas and concerns. Their methodologies include repurposed imagery, commercially inspired studio techniques, and site-specific installations constructed solely for the camera. Alluring and thought-provoking, their images beckon us with pure visual appeal, then seductively engage us in sober conversation concerning issues of identity, rehabilitation, environmental awareness, and ruthless assassination. Their projects come from introspection and empathy, from practices steeped in life experience and a keen appreciation of the human condition. In them, we recognize universal themes and familiar stories, invigorated and informed with new faces, new vocabularies and new histories.

© Adam Amengual‘s Homies series
© Christine Nguyen
© Brenda Perry‘s Postmortem Juarez series
Can’t make the exhibit? The New Works #15 Exhibition Catalogue features all the work in the show, and is available via Blurb.com, so you can purchase your very own catalogue and help celebrate the many talents this program helps support.

En Foco’s New Works Photography Fellowship Awards is 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 free national call for entries. It 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.

Submissions for New Works #16 with juror Natasha Egan of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, will be accepted until July 31, 2012. Online submissions will be made via CallforEntry.org, and details are posted on En Foco’s website.

We owe a very special thanks to those that make this program possible. The 15th New Works program is supported in part by the NY State Council on the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Bronx Council on the Arts, Canson Infinity, Manfrotto, PhotoServe, Lowepro, PDN and En Foco’s patrons.