VIVAN SUNDARAM at Gallery 44 (401 Richmond, Suite 120) co-presented by SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Collective), to October 29. 416-979-3941. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Interesting artists often come from interesting families, and celebrated Indian artist Vivan Sundaram 's is especially fascinating. A good thing, given that he makes his relatives the subject of his work. His show, Re-take Of Amrita, features his grandfather, the respected photographer Umrao Singh Sher-Gil; his grandmother Marie Antoinette, a Hungarian-born opera singer; and their two daughters, Sundaram's mother, Indira, and Aunt Amrita, the irrepressible painter.
Sundaram blends together parts of his grandfather's family photographs into single images that span decades. The resulting digital photomontages document, against the backdrop of India's fight for independence, the sibling rivalry between Amrita and Indira and the strong influence their talented parents had on them.
Rather than conceal his process, Sundaram plays with objective reality, depicting one person more than once in the same collage or leaving obvious traces of the process, like translucent lines from the overlap of images.
Perhaps the most intriguing piece explores Umrao's fondness for shooting in mirrors, making five people look like 11. In the rich decor of a Paris salon, Marie peers in the mirror with a lighthearted expression, while behind her reflection, as though it were a memory, she appears as a younger woman.
To Marie's right, Amrita, in traditional garb, admires herself in another mirror in which she appears twice, in her sari and in a smart Parisian outfit. On the left, Indira stares demurely from under a floppy hat at her reflection in another mirror. Behind Indira's reflection, Sundaram as a young boy sits with a camera on Umrao's lap .
Inspiring a more intimate appreciation of the original photographs, these collages brilliantly undermine photography's blank insistence on truth. They also beautifully tell the story of the Sher-Gil family.