Annu Palakunnathu Matthew talks about her experiments with digital media
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew says that she’s only 46 per cent Indian.
Intriguingly enough, this fact is the thread for the photography expert’s upcoming project, which was triggered by her interest in the word ‘Syrian’ in the etymology of the Christian community in Kerala, which she hails from.
“I initially wanted to be a photojournalist and fight for women’s rights, but soon realised that I don’t have the personality for that. So my work usually has a socio-political overlay. I use anthropological images and family photographs as a starting point because they are familiar to the viewer,” says Annu, about how her art evolved since attending a course in photography at Women’s Christian College in Chennai.
Weaving stories through photo-animations—where the concept of a single frame is expanded—her recent works occupy a niche between photography and conventional documentary video.
Having gained recognition through her exhibitions at venues including The Royal Ontario Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Annu’s field-work oriented projects have been supported by grants including Fulbright and the John Gutmann fellowship.
Annu’s ‘masala’ background reflects in her oeuvre which has been shaped by her life spread out over three continents, with her family moving to India from England, and her later migrating to the US.
“I explore parallel histories and narratives in my artwork—drawing on my immigrant experience in the United States (in An Indian from India) and pulling back the veil on forgotten South Asian histories (in Open Wound – Stories of Partition),” says the 52-year-old, who engages with her personal projects during the summer break from her duties as the Director of the Center for the Humanities at The University of Rhode Island.
The layering of her childhood memories, shaped in Europe, over that of a young woman in a patriarchal Indian society, also helped her to approach her parents’ land with “a unique perspective of being both an insider and an outsider,” as seen in her Memories of India.
With her work revolving around the idea of familial reminiscences, she still visits India every year and cheekily mentions that she still cherishes the childhood sweetness of ethakka appam and chakka payasum.
Photo credits: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew & sepiaEYE, NYC