‘Fireflies’ by Poulomi Basu at East Gallery
Student Ambassador and BA (Hons) Design for Publishing student Jade Borley visits East Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Fireflies’ by Poulomi Basu. Jade is also a Gallery Assistant at East Gallery, and guides us through some of the spaces and moments of the exhibition.
As you enter the gallery, you are immediately transcended into an inky blue space and met with the echoes of a storyteller. The storyteller is narrating a science-fiction influenced film that is comprised of two screens, both playing in sync with the other. One shows a short film of themes of freedom, encapsulating Poulomi Basu’s personal experience of emancipation. The other screen shows a masked figure performing an expressionist dance piece, symbolising being trapped in a void and trying to break free. The film represents the mental illness and systematic injustice that domestic violence survivors go through. Something that both Basu and her mother, who features prominently in the exhibition, have been through themselves.
Whilst watching the films, you are aware of the photography staring back at you, almost demanding to be recognised. The photographs from this exhibition tell a journey of self-love, resistance, race, representation, and solidarity. This not just between not only Basu and her mother, but also the many women who have been through the same experiences. Basu is quoted saying: ‘Women’s bodies, black and brown bodies, are on the front line of violence, they hold so much pain and injury – how can we claim our position and achieve a level of freedom and/or power? For me, the practice of self-love is an important part of the answer, but it’s difficult to achieve – it’s not something we’re taught, but something we have to learn for ourselves.’ The photographs in this exhibition feature solely Basu, or Basu and her mother. These intimate portraits are powerful and extremely personal. You can’t help but feel emotionally involved in their stories, and relate to these portraits by identifying with reclaiming your body and voice as a woman in the world we live in.
Basu says: ‘I feel like my mother has learnt a lot by seeing my journey; many South Asian women of her generation have been indoctrinated and are told their lives hold little value, or that they don’t have potential – they become invisible. But being visible and living for yourself, loving yourself and not being ashamed of yourself is a real journey and I feel like she has discovered this. It has been a constant dialogue between us over the last decade or so: she has often told me that she wished she was living life like me and could have the life that I have now. She had to sacrifice so much of herself in order to raise her children and be able to give them something more than what she had. On a regular basis she was reminded that her life was never her own and it was controlled by men, such as my father. These archaic values have occurred over many generations in my culture where women should ‘not be heard’; they become confined within domestic spaces, trapped by both the physical space of the home but also by the violence of their positionality.’
“The landscapes allow the onlooker to envisage themselves in a different world, yet one they can make their own; a world that is not only your present but can also be your future.”
Displayed in the centre of the gallery are three transparent hangings, dappled with the science-fiction landscapes that also feature in a handful of the photographs. These landscapes enhance the ongoing themes of magical realism and eco-feminism that run throughout the exhibition. The dystopian landscapes allow the onlooker to envisage themselves in a different world, yet one they can make their own; a world that is not only your present but can also be your future. Basu states: ‘I want to reach audiences who aren’t able to see themselves in predictable stories of daring masculinity or testosterone-fuelled space adventures – I want them to be able to turn to Fireflies, and spin fantasy through a feminist lens.’ Some of the photographs within the exhibition are not just photographs. Some have three-dimensional computational elements, created from multiple layers that create a painterly feel – a technique that Basu has been exploring.
The exhibition is certainly emotive, touching on subjects that may make you feel uncomfortable, but these are stories from women that are necessary to be told. You can’t help but be transformed into another place, engrossed with the beautiful sights of overcoming the traumas of the world.
Fireflies is an on-going project by Indian transmedia artist and activist Poulomi Basu. Started in 2019, and developed during the pandemic, the exhibition narrates ‘intricate and hugely imaginative tales about violence, race, life, death and above all love.’ On until the 18th of November 2023 at the East Gallery, Norwich University of the Arts.
Photography: Denisa Ilie and Tiggy Pretty
Post published: 6th November 2023
Last modified: 8th November 2023