Edition 2023


Philippe Calia

The Ajaib Ghar Archive  

How does memory, and its residue, shape our ways of seeing? Philippe Calia contemplates this question in his ongoing research on museum spaces. Through an archive that comprises images taken in exhibition galleries and those of comments found in visitors’ books, in museums across India, Calia draws attention to the constructs of the post-colonial institution, and its impact on our perception of art, artefact, and ideas. In exploring the subjectivity inherent to the relationship between the spectator and the image, The Ajaib Ghar Archive is as much a comment on the authority a museum wields in moderating this dynamic as it is on the photograph’s potential to elicit a multiplicity of meanings.

The museum, in its sacralising of objects and in removing them from their contexts, frames societies within a particular arc of history. Calia’s images reveal its artifice ‒ recognising it as an ajaib ghar or a “house of wonders” while simultaneously questioning its role as an institution of power. Embodying the colonial tendency to catalogue and define, even in the contemporary moment,  the museum continues to further imperialist ambitions. In its depiction of certain communities as specimens and types, it often furthers mainstream narratives disguised as ‘truth’.

By inviting the public to leave comments on his artist book, Calia challenges the aura of the exhibit, recognizing that narratives can be appropriated but also contested. Through the title ‒A Visitor’s Book ‒ he hints at his own dual position as an author: as a French citizen working in India for fifteen years, and as a viewer who has turned into a maker of art himself. Distilling his lifelong exposure to art, Calia leaves his own comments in the form of his drawings. In recalling the “imaginary museum” in our memory, the artist prompts us to acknowledge its imprint on our perception of reality.

Tanvi Mishra

Curator: Tanvi Mishra

With support from the Louis Roederer Foundation and Polka.

With support from PhotoSouthAsia, India.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture