By Anu Kumar
A beautiful and poignant exploration of the intersection of place and identity, family and connection — through the eyes of a photographer returning to her birthplace in northern India
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Ideas around place and identity have never been unequivocal for Anu Kumar. When the young Melbourne-based photographer returned to to her birthplace of Kavi Nagar, India, for the first time since childhood at age twenty-one, she felt at sea. ‘I remember a feeling of discomfort, of not knowing my place or who I was in that context,’ she says. ‘I began taking photos as an exercise in learning how to be Indian.’
The term Ghar, meaning ‘home’ in Hindi, doubles as the title of this, her debut book, and the broader outcome of her pursuit – one that is as much a new beginning as it is a homecoming. Shooting over a period of five years on a medium format camera, Kumar’s soft gaze meanders between the rooms and courtyards of the family home in Kavi Nagar, and out onto the neighbouring streets, sketching out the symbolic and aesthetic markers of a personal and cultural heritage. Formal portraits of her grandmother, aunts and uncles, echoing the traditional family album, give way to intimate scenes of daily tasks and quiet idleness – a thorough visual record to preserve intergenerational gestures and familial rituals that may otherwise linger in the undocumented everyday.
Kumar’s search for familial closeness was suddenly given a new sense of universality when the COVID-19 pandemic closed Australia’s international borders for almost two years. Edited and sequenced during this period, Ghar also speaks to the enforced distance experienced by cross-cultural families, and the role of photographs as vessels for intimacy and connection. The series contemplates ‘home’ in all its multiplicities. A place, a sentiment, a responsibility; something at once inherently familiar and other times distant and incongruous.
Read if you: need a break from a constant barrage of content.