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Posted 21.08.17

Material culture & colonialism: Mohini Chandra develops ‘Paradise Lost’ in Paris residency

By Sarah Packer

During August, Dr Mohini Chandra, artist and Programme Leader on our BA (Hons) Photography degree, is undertaking an Australia Council residency at the Cite Internationale des Artes, a museum, cultural centre, and a place for research and teaching in Paris.

The project, which has been supported by Plymouth College of Art’s research committee, will see Mohini researching the photographic and material collections of the musée du quai Branly and developing new studio work.

“Having undertaken work in India and Fiji recently, the Paris residency presents a unique opportunity to develop my project ‘Paradise Lost’ in allowing me to incorporate colonial histories around visual and material culture.

"It is perhaps only now that people such as myself - with origins in ‘colonised’ parts of the world - can have access to and begin re-interpreting such collections, in partnerships with museums themselves."

“I am exploring the considerable ethnographic collections of the musée du quai Branly which includes over 1700 items of material culture, printed matter and photography from the Pacific/Oceania (and further extensive collections from Asia).

“In exploring European mythology around paradisiacal and other complex cultural notions of the Pacific, I felt that it was critical that this work be undertaken in a significant archive based in Europe.

“Exploring the different ways that both indigenous and migrant communities have been imaged within museum collections and archives serve as a counterpoint to my work on the visibility and performativity of photography, self-imaging and storytelling within the everyday and domestic sphere.

“I am also looking for clues as to the nature of early cross-cultural interactions in the Asia-Pacific. Of particular interest to me is the colonial album, the ‘ethnographic’ photo-book and other forms of photographic publication and distribution (such as the picture postcard) in which tropes around racial difference emerge from the museum space into popular culture.

“As a newly established institution based on extensive historical collections, the musée du quai Branly combines enormous depth in terms of collecting and material culture with a notably contemporary and interpretive attitude towards their collections.

“It is perhaps only now that people such as myself - with origins in ‘colonised’ parts of the world - can have access to and begin re-interpreting such collections and their own histories, in partnerships with museums themselves."

Students at both Banaras Hindu University and Plymouth College of Art take part in a cultural photo exchange.

We encourage all of our staff and students to take up opportunities both in the UK and internationally. Through Mohini’s Asialink residency last October, our BA (Hons) Photography students undertook an exchange of work programme in May.

This saw the students Mohini had connected with at the Faculty of Visual Arts, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi engaging in an email dialogue with our students as well as through exhibitions in both the college and in India and a very successful skype symposia event.