This public lecture will offer a critical perspective on the pandemic in India through the lens of photography. At a time when there was an almost total shutdown of theatres, cinemas, museums, libraries, and universities, it was photography, mediatized through computers and smartphones, that enabled one to ‘see’ what was happening in our own cities and beyond. This lecture will reflect on two sets of photographs beginning with three exemplary images focusing on the horror of hospitals, crematoria and abandoned dead bodies during the ‘second wave’ between May and September 2021. Against this breakdown of social infrastructure and the disruption of the rituals of mourning, the lecture will juxtapose a different body of photographs taken during the first phase of the pandemic when thousands of migrant workers and labourers walked back to their rural homes after a national lockdown was imposed. Apart from engaging with the affective registers of these photographs, the lecture will also throw out some critical observations on the larger distribution and ownership of these highly localized images by global media houses. Inevitably, the globalization of the pandemic through images will be set against the growing censorship of the national media in India. In this context, questions relating to the ethics and politics of visualizing the media will be problematized, leading to speculations on the legal implications of using images to indict those in power whose mismanagement and dereliction of public duty have been covered up or silenced. What kind of ‘evidence’ can photographs provide in order to deepen our understanding of states of emergency, extending beyond aesthetic considerations to arrive at new forms of social solidarity, empathy, truth and justice?
Willson Center for Humanities and Art visiting scholar Rustom Bharucha is an independent Indian theater director, cultural critic, and non-fiction author who is well known for such books as Rehearsals of Revolution: The Political Theater of Bengal, Theater and the World, The Question of Faith, In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activism in India, The Politics of Cultural Practice, Rahjasthan: An Oral History, and Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin. Bharucha received his BA at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, his MA at Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and an MFA and DFA at the Yale School of Drama. He has taught in the United States, Germany, Japan, and India, most recently serving as Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.