What's a cow doing inside a Rajasthani palace?

Published: Oct 07, 2010, 06:48 IST | Priyanjali Ghose |

American photographer Karen Knorr's latest photo exhibition Transmigration juxtaposes live animals against the grand facade of palaces and museums

American photographer Karen Knorr's latest photo exhibition Transmigration juxtaposes live animals against the grand facade of palaces and museums  
A visit to the palaces of Rajasthan in 2008 changed the perspective of American photographer Karen Knorr. Looking at the figurines of animals on the walls and ceilings of the heritage forts and palaces, Knorr realised how the reality and the boundary between human and animal lives are blurred. Thus was born Transmigration, a photo exhibition in town that will show around 21 photographs of animals in various palaces across Rajasthan.

                 The Gatekeepr, Zanana, Samode Palace

Discussing how the hybrid of culture s in India has formed the most beautiful architectural buildings and that nature enters the cultural space through the walls of these palaces, Knorr says, "Photographs of animals remind us of the transience of life and also the impermanence of material life. The aim is also to question the official high art culture whilst simultaneously celebrating its beauty through carefully constructed and highly detailed photographs."

The photos will be exhibited under two titles of Fables and India Song. Fables is inspired from the French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine's fables on animals and juxtaposes cranes, foxes, hares and other small animals (who are recurring characters in Fables) against grand facades and interiors. India Song explores femininity and its relationship with the animal world and nature in Rajasthani folklores.

Transmigration, according to Knorr shows the metamorphosis and rebirth of atmas or souls. The collection is a blend of digital and analogue photography. Knorr puts live animals in places like museums and palaces, where animals have traditionally been presented as hunting trophies or as objects of study and representation. Though the animals are alive, the postures they adapt will remind you of taxidermy stances.
Where animals are made to look very life like except time having stopped still for them as author Yann Martel recently described in his book Beatrice and Virgil, also a title themed on taxidermy. Knorr does accept the influence of taxidermy in her works. 

According to her, earlier animals found representation in our art and architecture. Also, dead animals were taxidermised as hunting trophies and also found place as part of collections in natural history museums throughout Europe. They also found place in zoos where they were classified and studied. But with the advent of stringent animal laws coming into practice more and more museums avoided exhibiting them.

Knorr says, "Through my works I have tried to reintroduce natural history collections back into museums in France that banned animals from their sites." According to Knorr, contemporary fine art photography is about pushing and questioning the boundaries of what is permitted in museum culture.
"Fables questions and challenges official museum culture in a playful and aesthetic way that can appeal to a wider audience." Revealing how Karni Mata, the temple of a female sage at Jodhpur that protects rats inspired her, Knorr confesses "My favourite is the white tiger called The Peacemaker. It represents India in an allegorical way showing how Mahatma Gandhi considered tolerance and peacemaking as high priority."

However, according to Knorr the images of sunrays seeping through the huge haveli windows and falling upon birds, monkeys and cows are not mere photographs. "I do not click but rather mediate through slow photography. The click comes after the research and field work," says Knorr.

At Sua House, Kasturba Cross Road
On from October 9 to November 30
Time 10 am to 6 pm
Call 2212 8358

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