Maryam Jafri


A picture, as we know, has the propensity to tell a thousand words. Though when witnessed by a multitude of viewers, each will tell their own story. This is the focus of New York–based artist Maryam Jafri’s ongoing project, Independence Day 1934–1975.

Rather than focusing on the object of the photograph, Jafri takes on the subjectivity of a topic that, historically, has been deemed rather concrete: the days of national independence from colonial powers around the world.

Focusing not simply on the concept of colonisation or decolonisation per se, this ongoing project seeks to question what Jafri calls the “threshold or the twilight moment” that occurred with the transition of power from colonial territory to nation state, mainly in Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries.

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Maryam Jafri, Sri Lanka – Ghana – Botswana 1948–1966. From the photo series Independence Day 1934–1975, (2009–present).

The artist has mined the national archives of twenty–plus countries, as well as unofficial archives from the personal photographers of world leaders where the official national archive hasn’t been available due to it being either destroyed, misplaced or inaccessible.

She then culls each archive and presents it as a story-board in grid formation to represent a sort of discursive narrative, which undermines the so-called “factual” nature of such pictures.

Independence Day 1934–1975’s subject matter examines the rituals that were performed – because they very much were, both to be represented as history and to form a sense of nationhood – during these days of independence. These include the car processions and the swearing-in ceremonies.

This project fits in neatly with Jafri’s practice, which more and more looks at the concept of colonisation as it stands today, not only in the nationhood sense of the word, but in the way in which, now, we’re being colonised by consumerism. It’s these flows of exchange and power that the artist is most interested in.

Independence Day 1934 – 1975
Maryam Jafri
Institute of Modern Art
30 July – 8 October

Preview Words by Sarah Werkmeister