Looking at the Tree Again

Looking at the Tree Again
People attend Zubeni Lotha’s photo exhibition, ‘Looking at the Tree Again’, being held at the Assam State Museum in Guwahati from December 19-24, 2017. (Photo courtesy Zubeni Lotha)


Zubeni Lotha’s photo exhibition opens in Guwahati


Morung Express News
Dimapur | December 19


Questioning the representation of Nagas in early anthropology, Naga Photographer, Zubeni Lotha, opened an exhibition in Guwahati today.


Titled, ‘Looking at the Tree Again,’ Zubeni, through her photos, looks at how the ‘colonial construction’ of identity and representation of the Nagas was framed by the lens of early anthropology in British India. The exhibition will be open from December 19 to 24 (10:00 am – 5:00 pm) at the Assam State Museum in Guwahati.


“Throughout history, only one kind of image of the Naga has been perpetuated time and again,” notes Zubeni while speaking to The Morung Express.


In 1936, the Austrian ethnologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, in his photographs of the Konyak Nagas, created the first archetypal and universal image of the Nagas as a ‘primitive’ people. Lotha critiques Fürer-Haimendorf’s images of the Konyak Nagas, published in his book ‘Naked Nagas’ and his relationship with and understanding of the community.


‘Looking at the Tree Again’ sets out to study and reinterpret Fürer-Haimendorf’s photographs and explore the ways in which the daily life of the Konyak Nagas can be portrayed and understood today.


“Naga culture did not come into existence because the anthropologists documented the Nagas. There is so much stereotyping of a violent past, free women and exotic culture that our day-to-day cultural dynamism, engraved in wood or ingrained in songs, were lost as our cultural identity,” notes the photographer whose images “capture the complexity of Naga culture beyond these colonial anthropological images.”


Zubeni’s images, she says, are “not captivating, amazing images.”


“I am not aiming for one amazing picture that portrays our culture. I am aiming for the ordinary experience of people that is there in everything they do every day,” she observes.


So, one of the pictures—that of a Peepal tree in a village in Wokha district—not only becomes a symbol of the past where enemy heads were hung but also of a present where the children of the village play; its roots spread all over the village becoming part of an unforeseen, dynamic, future.


According to Zubeni, “That is how Naga culture is, not just our exotic dances and costumes but a lively culture that people are living and taking forward to the future.”


Zubeni Lotha is a photographer from Dimapur, Nagaland. Her work has been published in Outlook Traveller and The Caravan, and she has contributed to The New York Times and Random House blogs. Her practice captures snippets of tribal life in Nagaland in the face of rapid socio-economic change. Her project ‘How Do I Look,’ questions the idea of Naga culture, identity and representation and her ongoing work on her hometown—Dimapur 797112 —was exhibited in New Delhi in 2012.


Lotha received a grant from India Foundation for the Arts under the Arts Research programme, with support from Titan Company Limited, to carry out this project and the subsequent exhibition. She is now attempting to bring the exhibition to Nagaland.