Framing Photographic Histories and the MAP Museum – A Conversation with Nathaniel Gaskell
We spoke with Nathaniel Gaskell, Co-founder and Associate Director of the Museum of Art and Photography in Bangalore, about his recent publication co-authored with Diva Gujral – charting over 150 years of photography in India and the larger processes of canonisation, institution building and contemporary frameworks for the telling of myriad art histories.
Interview with Nathaniel Gaskell, 3rd June, 2020.
Thinking through the pedagogical tools and objectives of museums in general, Nathaniel reflects upon the transforming imperative that a contemporary institution holds – “to not just show the people what they want,” but create more nuanced and alternative readings of image-based histories. Discussing ideas around ‘popular’ and ‘vernacular’ content, we talk about accessibility or readability of images in a museum. Responding to this danger of enforcing a particular canon, Nathaniel talks about MAP’s multifaceted strategy. “The solution is to do multiple things,” he says.
“A hopeful thing that will come out museums rethinking what they are and how they reach audiences… will address questions of canonisation… and the idea of the museum as this sacred, big, white space”
As a part of MAP’s public outreach programs, they conduct various workshops and seminars allowing students, teachers and professionals to engage with visual histories beyond the so called ‘stable’ contexts in which they are created. Pushing its pedagogical aims, MAP is now also developing online courses, and digital databases for the dissemination of art research in ways that are accessible and engaging for a new audience following the lockdown.
Nathaniel also reflects on the novel possibilities afforded by the digital/online spaces and emphasises the need for medium specificity in online curatorial strategies.
“Why in a virtual exhibition would we put a bronze on a plinth in a white space? Here is an opportunity for us to recreate a temple with all the sounds and visuals and use it to show something in its real contexts…”
A screenshot of MAP’s website – https://map-india.org/
Reflecting on his co-authored book with Diva Gujral, Photography in India (2019, Prestel), they present an overview on various genres of photography in the region, and suggest the many similarities it has to other histories of photography from outside the region. The colonial history of the camera – invented in the 19th century, retains its imperial mark, even visible in the reception of certain contemporary practices today. The book traverses semi-chronological strains, categorising photography into along ten distinct chapters outlined in the book.
On the contemporary challenges of the ethics of representation, Nathaniel talks about an incremental shift in dominant representational narratives, building upon existing categories but transforming the readings and meanings by constantly re-engaging the archive. We end with a reflection on the commonality of photographic experiences in societies across South and South-East Asia, as well as other places like Latin America. The shared histories along subaltern lines seem to find a particularly stark crossovers across the world.