The works of Indian photographer Nandini Valli Muthiah are a gorgeous and compelling documentation of the intersection of the divine and the mundane ever present in daily life. Two different series are represented at Wood Street Galleries, both sharing brilliant composition, richly saturated colors and cleanly cinematic lighting. Best of all, they reveal a fascination with the otherworldly that refuses to gaze up in adoration, but instead respectfully pulls it off its pedestal to stand shoulder to shoulder on the ground.
The series “Definitive Reincarnate” follows Krishna, resplendent and contemplative, as he moves about the earth. Ornamented with golden crowns glittering with gemstones, leis of orchids and leaves, wrapped in shimmering silks threaded with precious metals, his blue-skinned form alone is a joyous riot of texture and hue and would make his portraits captivating even if traditionally posed. But this series goes further with a narrative depicting a god maybe a little weary, maybe a little worn, maybe a little human.
In two images, while walking a brick path or standing straight up in a vintage red convertible, he’s flanked by uniformed attendants who gaze solemnly at the camera. Otherwise he’s alone, floating in pools alongside lily pads and lotuses, majestic and proud before a temple with a statue of his childhood self, reclining on a lush carpet of grass. In perhaps the most moving image he sits on a bed’s foot in a generic hotel suite, head ducked, tired.
The photographs in the “Remember to Forget” series document the Fancy Dress Competition, part of Children’s Day events traditionally held at schools across India. Grade-schoolers arrive prepared to recite speeches and perform poetry, costumed as gods, animals and historical figures. While the shots of Krishna capture the subject in the act of living, the children stiffly hold poses. Despite their often exuberant outfits, they are mostly solemn, stoic, resembling small serious adults, although one child seems committed to remaining in character. They hold mock spears, shields and musical instruments, and while we might respond with amusement, these children are most definitely not amused. The burden of their obligation to excel seems to rival Krishna’s.
Nandini Valli has a growing reputation of one of India’s premier photographers. Judging from the work seen here, she’s soon to be among the world’s.