Vivan Sundaram Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze 2001

Vivan Sundaram
Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze 2001
digital photomontage
Courtesy the artist

An artist in his own right, Amrita Sher-Gil’s nephew Vivan Sundaram has been involved with the Sher-Gil archive for more than thirty years. In 2001–2 he created a series of digital photomontages entitled Re-take of Amrita. Using photographs taken by Amrita’s father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil as a starting point, Sundaram produced montages that literally re-take or re-present the family album, foregrounding in particular the images of Amrita.

In the original photographs, Amrita’s father portrays himself as a deeply serious and self-reflexive man at odds with the lavish décor of his home and the vivacious lifestyle of his Hungarian wife, Marie Antoinette. In his montages, Vivan Sundaram presents these contrasting parental figures alongside pictures of Amrita and her sister, combining images taken at different times and locations.

Amrita appears as a young woman in command of her own multiple identities, reflected in her changing outfits, stances or expressions. There are allusions to her remarkable love life: her numerous lovers included the artist Boris Taslitzky, and perhaps even the future prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As much as the pictures allow us to peer into a fascinating private world and appear to offer insights into the domestic life and psyche of the artist, they also raise questions and at times we are unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

The film playing here Amrita Sher-Gil, a Family Album, is a personal account of the life and work of the painter made by Navina Sundaram, Amrita’s niece and Vivan’s sister. Using old photographs, letters, diary entries and newspaper cuttings as well as stories that her mother told her, Navina Sundaram investigates the art and life of Amrita Sher-Gil from her perspective as both a journalist and a family member.