Recently I was invited to an opening of a photo exhibition in my first neighbourhood when I moved to Amsterdam eleven years ago. It is called ‘Quiet Reflections on my Heritage’.
The photographer, who is called Suj in the UK (place of her birth) is called Su in the Netherlands (place of her residence) and Sujata in India (place of her parent’s birth).
Her parents, the Majumdars, recent immigrants to the UK when she was born named her with nog een j in her name. How were they to know that her journey through life would bring her here, to the Netherlands where she would be fully identified as Suyata Mayumdar? She says it like that herself to make it easier for her Dutch friends and colleagues to write down. Why not?
She went to Bangalore and there she took a photo of her cousin whose wall has photos of the whole family. Her cousin was getting married that day and at the wedding Sujata met her friend Goutam who told her that he has a mama (maternal uncle) Ashok in Amsterdam who runs a gallery. So Sujata emailed Ashok who didn’t reply but then she saw that he happened to have a studio next to her photo lab so she asked them if they knew him and they said of course. Well, they met and found they both originate in Bengal. And now ‘Quiet Reflections on my Heritage’ is hanging in Gallery Ashok in my old neighbourhood.
Looking at the photos, I’m drawn into Sujata’s search through the atmosphere they create with their finer details and textures caught in frames where her subjects are there but not quite. Reflections on a hot day looking at oneself in a mirror marred by time, gazing at the peeling wall as its layers are revealed, hearing the traffic on a Calcutta street by peeping into a room with an open window, watching uncle eat on the floor from a respectable distance, the doorway cutting the gesture of hand to mouth.
These self-reflective moments are adjacent to a narrow wall of photos of a monumental banyan tree that reaches at once for the sky, for expanse on every side and downwards boring itself into the earth again and again and again.
Never having lived in India, Sujata went to photograph there while studying at the FOTOfactory in Amsterdam where she’s been living for eleven years. Growing up in multi-cultural London, she wasn’t very aware of her ‘Indian self’. In fact she found the gatherings for pooja and such-like just about tolerable and wasn’t very busy (as we like to say in Dutch) with being Bengali, in any particular way. It felt more natural to be British of Indian origin. What then drove her to seek her ‘Indian roots’ after she moved to the Netherlands? Why does she feel an almost immediate connection with other Indians uprooted and weer rooted here? Not in the least, how come it feels so natural to bask in the warmth of extended family in India when they hardly know her?
Back at that same family wedding in Bangalore, Sujata discovered that her paternal cousin’s husband’s brother and his wife know family members from her maternal side in Baltimore, Maryland. So her next project is to visit them and photograph traces of India in their lives and what their dreams were when they left India and where they are now.
The project seems to suggest that the branches may spread but are pulled into the ground or they wouldn’t be able to reach into space.
Sujata is one of the photographers selected to feature in GUP (New).
The exhibition is open until 9th of February 2013 from 13.30 to 18.30 from Thursday to Sunday
At Gallery Ashok, Spuistraat 183B, Amsterdam