"In/Visible: Portraits of Farmers and Spice Porters of India," a series of portraits of Indian women farmers and men working as spice porters, will be on display this summer for 24-hour public viewing from June 7 - September 7, 2018 at NYU's Kimmel Windows Galleries at the corner of LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street.
“In/Visible: Portraits of Farmers and Spice Porters of India,” a series of portraits of Indian women farmers and men working as spice porters, will be on display this summer for 24-hour public viewing from June 7 – September 7, 2018 at NYU’s Kimmel Windows Galleries at the corner of LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Street.
The exhibition includes 13 black and white portraits of Indian women farmers from several states in India and migrant “Porters of Taste” in Old Delhi’s spice market. Sarah K. Khan—a Pakistani-American multimedia artist and scholar with a practice focused on food, culture, women, and migrants—shot the portraits over the course of a year from 2014 to 2015. The exhibition is curated by Grace Aneiza Ali, faculty member in the department of Art & Public Policy at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, at the invitation of Pamela Jean Tinnen, director and lead curator of Kimmel Galleries. “At the Windows, we strive to show exemplary work that serves and inspires our NYC and NYU communities. I could not be more excited for this important and timely exhibition, showcasing the immense talent of Sarah K. Khan and the curatorial vision of Grace Aneiza Ali,” said Tinnen.
Each day 98 million Indian women farmers participate in a full range of agricultural activities, according to 2011 Indian Census data. Khan believes women farmers are among some of our world’s most marginalized communities, rendered largely invisible in our culture today. As a Senior Research Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in India, she documented in multiple media women farmers and bore witness to their plight. “I wanted to show to the powers-that-be the face of the invisible, and to sew into the fabric of global visual culture marginalized stories of persistence. How else do I/we defy erasure?” asks Khan.
The women farmers depicted in Khan’s portrait series hail from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Telangana, embodying diverse and location-specific ecological knowledge about seed-saving, foraging, food culture, and healing. They are Hindus, Dalits, Muslims, and Christians. They are of African and of indigenous (Adivasis) descent. In Khan’s portraits, we are given a glimpse of women, not toiling in the fields nor as beasts of burden, but as resilient individuals who support their families. They confront unrelenting struggle while making profound cultural contributions to their communities. They persist.
Khan also takes the viewer to Old Delhi, a city that holds some of her own family history. Before the 1947 Partition of the sub-continent, Khan’s father and his family (from Simla and Amritsar) lived in Old Delhi. Fast forward 70 years, Khan walked the same streets as her father in search of taste. Her images offer a glimpse of migrant porters of Gadodia Market, the nerve center of Asia’s largest spice market located in Khari Baoli. “The Porters of Taste,” newly dislocated youth or longtime spice porters, come from Bihar, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal. In Khan’s portraits, the viewer witnesses the porters and their fleeting moments of rest and quiet, reserved only for Sundays.
“Khan’s portraits offer us a stark reminder of the women and men whose love, labor, and toil are responsible for the food we indulge in at our tables,” says Ali, curator of the exhibition. “The windows of Kimmel, in the heart of Greenwich Village at Washington Square Park, are located at a kind of crossroads of the world where each day the NYU and New York City community converge with thousands of international visitors. As they engage with these 13 stunning portraits, we hope it serves as an opening for meaningful public discourse about our roles and responsibilities as we consume the labor of others.”
Currently, Khan is a Visiting Scholar at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU. Since 2001, Khan has traveled to India for pre- and post-PhD field research on food, culture, and healing. She conceived and continues to develop Migrant Kitchens in Queens, New York, a multimedia project on the story behind the food in one of the most diverse cities in the world. She is also working in Fez, Morocco, another crossroads of diversity in the walled ancient city. Another multimedia version of Migrant Kitchens, Khan documents the embodied knowledge of migrant cooks and farmers.
Careful and thoughtful about how the farmers and porters see themselves and how they are seen by others, Khan’s practice is rooted in dialogue and relationship. Khan says, “When I think of “In/Visible” Series, I reflect on who renders them invisible, and what do our cultures, local and global, value?” Khan noted that most important to her was how the farmers and porters wanted to be seen.
“These men and women are dealing with the daily challenges of life, and are often living close to the edge,” she says. “I portray them as they would want to be portrayed. I engage in a slower photography, taking time to get to know my subjects so that the portraits come from a place of empathy and respect.”
The exhibition will run through September 7, is visible 24 hours a day, and is free and open to the public.
About the Kimmel Galleries:
Established in 2003, Kimmel Galleries are dedicated to providing visually dynamic and thought-provoking exhibitions. They are free and open to the public. For more information on tours, the artists or price inquiries, please contact the curator, Pamela Jean Tinnen, at 347 634 2938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rameejabi farms in the northern part of Karnataka. Here she attends a meeting of the Siddi Women Quilting Cooperative.Photo credit: Sarah K Khan
Amar Singh from Rajasthan, after a shave and shower, on a Sunday afternoon. The one day off for the porters.Photo credit: Sarah K Khan
A porter waits to bath in the open, on a pre-monsoon Sunday in the center of Gadodia Market building, Old Delhi.Photo credit: Sarah K Khan