Well known for her works exploring cultural identity and their construction among ethnic and cultural minorities in the West, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's work is characterized by juxtaposition and transformations of perceived and reimagined identities across generations and ethnicities. Born in Stourport, England, Annu (@annumatthew) moved to India with her family at the age of ten. Introduced to photography during her graduation days in Madras (Now Chennai) in India, she started to develop her own personal history of migration and multiculturality which later became a crucial influence in her practice.
She has since produced numerous photographic series which have centered around perceptions of race and ethnicity such as her series An Indian from India (2001-03) and To Majority Minority (2014-15). Matthew often explores gender roles and their connection to Indian cinema, drawn from her own experience of being a woman in India, which shows in her work Bollywood Satirized (1998-2001).
What stands out for viewers is her series; An Indian from India, where she pairs nineteenth-century ethnographic portraits of Native Americans with her own self-portraits, in which she mirrors the pose, setting, and image characteristics of photos, albeit in her distinctively cultural wear. She highlights both; the vast difference between these two "Indian" communities, as well as the shared history of colonial gaze through which these photographs were taken.
She creates photo-based work on old photographs to re-examine historical narratives in both the United States and South Asia. Though trained as a photographer, her work increasingly makes use of the ever-expanding toolbox and has moved into installations. The result is a blend of still and moving imagery that shifts the viewer's perspective to question established and marginalized histories.
"The old images reignite memories and, like a time machine, take us back to a different time. Using digital technology, I reorient the viewer's connection to time as I collapse the presumed progression of its borders, so the past and present appear here in the same virtual space."
Matthew's recent solo exhibitions include the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, Nuit Blanche Toronto, the Newport Art Museum, and sepiaEYE, New York. Matthew's work has also been exhibited at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Newark Art Museum, MFA Boston, MFA Houston (Texas), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2018 Fotofest Biennial, 2009 Guangzhou Photo Biennial as well as the Smithsonian.
Annu Palakunnathu Matthew is a Professor of Art (Photography) and Director of the Centre for the Humanities at the University of Rhode Island and is represented by SepiaEYE, New York City and Tasveer gallery, India.