Critics’ Picks


Jihan El-Tahri

Clark House Initiative
8 Nathalal Parekh Marg, Clark House Building Ground Floor
February 8–April 8, 2018

For her first-ever solo presentation, Jihan El-Tahri examines where the histories of Egypt and India coincide, beginning with four photographs. In three, the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the second president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, walk down a gilded staircase. Appearing jovial, they whisper to each other, and in the fourth photograph—the only one publicly disseminated at the time—they shake hands, turning high-voltage smiles to the cameras, and to us. Opposite these images, which were taken in Belgrade in 1960, is a small screen showing a film from the Indonesian National Archives: It is April 16, 1955, and Indonesian prime minister Ali Sastroamidjojo is waiting on a tarmac to greet the celebrity delegates landing in the West Java capital of Bandung for the historic conference that marked the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement between several postcolonial countries. Nehru and Nasser step out of their respective planes, and as the film continues, they are always kept in the frame.

A spool of handmade cotton fabric, Binding Thread, 2018, running across the gallery marks cotton as a narrative link between the two countries and their histories. A wooden spinning wheel completes this piece and solidifies the connection: The wheel was a symbol of independence for the Indian nation-state and an emblem of resistance for Egyptian farmers, who, until the 1950s, were allowed to plant cotton but not mill it. Though the show is primarily a gathering of archival material collected by El-Tahri over the past two decades, she refrains from drawing any hard conclusions based on her research. Instead, she presents us with pieces of evidence from an era of great optimism and, of course, supreme political posturing. As the first photographs make clear, it is the staged tableau that interests her most.