Recognizing that power inheres in the gaze, and the gaze constructs as
much as it captures, Staging Selves: Power, Performativity & Portraiture,
turns on a number of questions: What does it mean to represent; to represent;
to make present again that which is no longer before us? Whose
gaze counts? Whose gaze structures whom? Who has the right to
“represent” whom, and how does who is doing the representing change
what gets represented? Who has the right to look? Who has the capacity
The exhibition features works of artists from India, China and Iran, who
have made it a part of their practice to question, problematize and blur the
artificial binary between the “staged” and the “documentary,” selfconsciously
investigating the power relations implicit in the pretension of
“representation.” Some have sought to create conditions for powersharing
between subject and artist, sometimes grounded in ethnographic
participation in the lives of their subjects, and rooted in dialogue with the
subject about how the self is to be performed before the lens. Others
utilize photographic practices that de-center the position of the artist;
foreground the constructed nature of the image; or highlight the role of
the artist in transforming found images, such as old family portraits, to
highlight the character of a historical moment before politico-religious
rupture. Set into a visual dialogue with one another, the works invite the
viewer to consider how images contain the power to constitute selves.
United by the common thread of self-conscious artistic practice and a
focus on subjects who are photographed at the intersection of the staged
and the documentary, as they perform the roles of themselves, the works
in the exhibition offer an exploration of the necessary incompleteness of
“representation,” and the implications of asymmetrical power relations,
inherent in the processes of “documenting” lives, creating
“representations,” or “staging” the “performance” of an “Other” as a Self.
About Maya Kóvskaya:
Delhi- & Beijing-based Maya Kóvskaya (PhD, UC Berkeley, 2009) has in her extensive
experience as a curator and critic, worked on numerous exhibitions in India, USA and China.
She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, the Renmin University of China, in
Beijing, and Beijing Capital Normal University. In 2010, she became the recipient of the
inaugural Yishu Award for Critical Writing on Contemporary Chinese Art, and was later
selected for the 2011 Young Curators Hub convening in Calcutta. Maya was also the 2010
Critic in Residence at the Khoj International Artists Association 'In Context: Public. Art.
Ecology' program. She has authored 'China Under Construction: Contemporary Art from the
People's Republic' in 2007 and is currently researching a comparative book on art and the
public sphere in China and India.