Anusha Yadav's recent photography series is about the art of self-exploration Advertisement

Anusha Yadav’s recent photography series is about the art of self-exploration

The photographer and archivist enjoys playing dress up

By Neville Bhandara  March 8th, 2018

In May 2016, photographer and founder of the Indian Memory Project, Anusha Yadav had just finished a commercial assignment when she began contemplating what to do next. “I wanted to shift my attention to something that would feel more mentally and physically freeing.” That same month, the 42-year-old’s search ended with Impersonations — an ongoing photography series that is part role-play, part performance, and all about the destabilisation of identity and the art of self-exploration.

Mary, house help, 2016, Mumbai

The exhibit sees Yadav transform into women whose stories she’s heard since she was a child, by way of self-portraiture. “It was easy,” she says, “because the only subject I needed willing, was myself.” For her first ‘impersonation’, Yadav chose to dress up as her house help, Mary. “I remember how liberating it was — that I could very well be her, in another life, body and time,” she recounts. After Mary, came others, like American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and Raziya Sultana — and some avatars stuck around long after Yadav had changed out of costume.

Razia sultana
Jalalat-ud-din Raziya (AKA Raziya Sultana), the first and the only Muslim Queen of the Delhi Sultanate, 2017, Mumbai

“Certain impersonations felt more familiar than others, like [those of] my grandmothers, or my childhood obsessions Mehr-un-nissa and Matahari.” To get into character, Yadav maintains a ritual: research, followed by copious note-taking. Then, she tells herself stories about the person she needs to become, holding long imaginary conversations with herself as the subject. “I can sense my posture, and voice change, even before I have begun to costume up,” she says, adding, “I am not hell-bent on historical accuracy, but I try to get as close to it as I can. A lot of clothes and props are my own, and I teach myself hairstyles and make-up from YouTube.”

Tara bai
Tara Bai, my maternal grandmother, 2016, Mumbai

Now, nearly two years after Yadav first began the project, it’s set for maximum exposure. This month, 14 works from Impersonations are on display at FotoFest in Houston (till April 22), USA, as part of the biennale’s exhibition, INDIA — Contemporary Photographic And New Media Art. But her biggest takeaway from the project is personal. “It is empowering to acknowledge that we cannot be de ned as consistently as we like to believe.” For now, Yadav is busy with a self-publication on love letters. “I have several selves, and as time passes, I too keep changing.”