People of Clay
It took me many years to notice at quieter moments when no one was listening, she would sing. Simple tunes with haunting notes of melancholy. I would try to grasp the words of a language I was yet to ascertain. Folksongs of a forgotten people.
Using these local songs as a map, I attempted to sculpt a new, amorphous personal identity not inherited from birth but through love. I traveled to her corner of India inherited by marriage a region bordering Bangladesh, bifurcated between the constructed colonial borders of Assam and Bengal. The elision of their identity is apparent in colonial documents. The title for an image of an elderly Rajbanshi man in ‘The People of India’, a nineteenth-century British ethnographic album compiled in the wake of the 1857 revolution, reads “Rajbansi. Aboriginal. Now Hindoos.” This description is both pejorative, and inaccurate since the Rajbanshis were not entirely Hindu. Their folk culture, language, and traditions were relegated to obscurity, subsumed by a larger regional identity. The people were left clutching at the remains of their folk culture within these boundaries, while slowly drifting into amnesia. At this time, like a folktale unraveling ‘People of Clay’ attempts to understand and pick at the remnants of this folk psychogeography. The work is presented as an assemblage of text, archival material, photographs, and lyrics. The intention of this work is to remind us that we are all people of clay, our identities constantly changing, not chained to the borders we have inherited. And like me, you can also sometimes find identity through love.
Akshay Mahajan is an artist and instigator working primarily with photography. His practice is grounded in research within historical documents, literature and visual material that inform and colour his process and inquiries as a photographer. His current project explores how the built environment of a city and how that architecture can function as “a sculptural representation of failed futures". He is also deeply interested in how individual lives are shaped by and shape the urban landscape. His long-term personal projects and essays are published in Financial Times Magazine London, Wall Street Journal Magazine, Aperture, and Le Monde among others. Akshay’s engagement with the visual arts also takes shape through writing, teaching and curation. In 2008, he co-founded Blindboys.org, an open collective aimed at reclaiming public spaces – both online and offline – to showcase photography built and educate a new audience by leveraging technology and engagement. Akshay was a member of the photo editorial team of PIX Quarterly, a contemporary photography publication looking at South Asian Practices. Akshay is also a co-curator of Goa Familia, a project that is digitally documenting the visual and oral histories within the state of India as well as the larger diaspora. He is also the co-curator of GoaPhoto an international photography festival that produces location-specific installations connecting photographic displays and their architectural contexts.
Artists in the same place