Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl
Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl
We are excited to present Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl, an exhibition of new lens-based work by 2021 Baxter St Resident Cheryl Mukherji. Encompassing new photographs, sculpture, printmaking, and hand-painted tableaux made expressly for her New York debut, Mukherji leans into and reimagines the tradition of Indian matrimonial portraiture as a meditation on prescribed femininity. Using her family photo albums that focus on her mother’s presence as a point of departure, the exhibition also explores the idea of origin and inheritance and the nuanced relationship between mother and daughter through the lens of arranged marriages. The show marks the culmination of Mukherji’s Baxter St residency and her first solo exhibition. Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl opens on Wednesday, January 12, and will remain on view through February 19, 2022, at Baxter St’s storefront gallery.
“This project is an attempt to historically trace photographic conventions pertaining to women in-studio portraits,” says Mukherji. “The matrimonial photographs that emerged to accompany advertisements for arranged marriages in newspapers of post-independence India have redefined the portrait of the single woman. These intimate, dialogic images are notions of desire, sexuality, and beauty interweaved with found vernacular imagery. When recontextualized within the modern, predominantly online dating culture the traditional matrimonial photograph transforms into a “thirst trap”, and yet represents the same hope for finding a partner where an algorithm does the desiring for you.“
Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl examines how memory, transgenerational trauma, and personal and collective history informs identity. The exhibition’s photographic and sculptural elements, painted tableaux, along with family albums create a vivid picture of the social impact and inherited notions of Indian women’s psyche. Through self-portraits, the artist visualizes her body in scenes that are performative, exaggerated, and occasionally mundane restagings of her mother’s matrimonial photographs as a way to gain a deeper understanding of her mother’s experience as part of her own and mimic the dichotomy of making the intimate experience of finding a partner a public experience that has taken root in the Indian middle-class subconscious.
Through self-portraiture, Mukherji deconstructed and reimagined her own matrimonial photograph. While subversively appearing as the potential wife of a suitor, she constructed a makeshift photo studio as a space for play, performance, and aspiration, which will be on view in the gallery. Matrimonial images were often made in photo studios against hand-painted backdrops and performed through gestures of prescribed femininity–such as sitting with legs crossed and, holding a demure gaze away from the lens with a slight smile surrounded by belongings, flowers in vases—always blooming. During her residency, Mukherji restaged her mother’s archive of matrimonial photographs, records of her mother’s twenties—the same age the artist is now. In the photographs, the artist explored the idea of becoming her mother by reinserting herself into the family photo album and staging self-portraits in her domestic space alongside prints of her mother’s photographs—exposing the anxiety of seeing her mother’s body as a home and foreign.
”Wanted Beautiful Home Loving Girl is the culmination of Cheryl’s experience as a Baxter St resident,” says Jil Weinstock, Baxter St’s Director. “We were honored to give Cheryl’s her first solo exhibition and provide a platform for her voice to be heard and these topics to be explored. Through the resources, funds, studio visits, and conversations she was able to focus on her work, unrestrained and experimental, and lay the groundwork for her to reimagine portraiture; through arranged marriages, matrimonial studio portraits, and online dating.”
Essay: A Proposal: Women and the Printed Matrimonial Photograph
Cheryl Mukherji (b. 1995, India) is a visual artist and writer currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with an MFA in Advanced Photographic Studies from the International Center of Photography-Bard College, New York in 2020. In her current work, Cheryl explores the idea of origin and inheritance, which is embedded in the figure of her mother and her presence in the family album. It deals with memory, personal history, transgenerational trauma, and how they inform identity. Cheryl primarily works with photography, text, and video.
Cheryl has been selected as a finalist for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2022 at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian. She has been the recipient of Capture Photography Festival’s Writing Prize 2020, Brooklyn Museum’s #Your2020Portrait Award, South Asian Arts Resiliency Fund (SAARF) 2020, Firecracker Photography Grant 2020, and was a finalist for the Dorthea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize 2020. Her work has been exhibited at the Minnesota Museum of American Art (US), Huxley-Parlour Gallery (UK), Format Photo Festival (UK), Brooklyn Museum (US), Museum of Moving Image (US), International Center of Photography (US), Serendipity Arts Festival (IN), among others.