‘Survivance’ is a term coined by Anishinaabe scholar Gerald Vizenor to describe the resistance and resilience of native communities in the face of colonialism and its legacy. In the context of modern Varanasi, a city in northern India with a rich and complex history of cultural exchange and political domination, ‘survivance’ takes on particular significance for the indigenous communities who have long called this region home. Survivance is not just about survival, but about the ability to thrive and maintain cultural and spiritual practices through generations in the face of historical oppression.
Kashi Vasi is a captivating photographic series that delves into the narratives of ‘survivance’ among the indigenous people of Varanasi, navigating the complex interplay between colonialism and the contemporary Varanasi. It is an exploration of the branches of ‘survivance’ in relation to the experiences of indigenous communities in Varanasi, examining the ways in which they have managed to maintain their cultural heritage and identities in the face of centuries of colonization, displacement, and marginalization. By juxtaposing the colonial era with the present, Kashi Vasi invites viewers to reflect on the intergenerational resilience demonstrated by the locals in the face of historical injustices and the ongoing challenges of the modern world. It prompts contemplation on the complexities of identity, the impacts of cultural assimilation, and the power of heritage in fostering a sense of belonging and continuity.
To begin, it is important to recognize that Varanasi has been a site of intense cultural exchange and political conflict for thousands of years. The city, situated on the banks of the Ganges river, has been a centre of Hinduism since ancient times, attracting pilgrims and scholars from across the Indian subcontinent and beyond. However, the arrival of colonial powers in the 18th and 19th centuries brought new forms of domination, leading to the displacement and marginalization of many indigenous communities in the region. The project investigates the authenticity of people, their perspectives, and cultural metaphors of the social space These investigations transform into a representation-oriented practice, drawing attention to ethnic identity and illustrious history.
For the native communities of Varanasi, cultural practices and traditions are not just a means of survival, but they are also a way of affirming their connection to the land, to their ancestors, and to the natural world. These practices are grounded in a deep sense of spirituality and interconnectedness, which is often at odds with materialistic values. The persistence of these cultural practices is a testament to the resilience of indigenous communities and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their core values and beliefs. All the work is shot on analog; a medium format.
Shashank Verma (b. 1994), is a photographer from Dahanu, a small town in western Maharashtra, and his current residence is in the cosmopolitan hub of London. His work is deeply immersed in the exploration of iden- tity, diaspora, and post-colonialism, serving as a compel- ling narrative through visual storytelling.
Verma’s artistic approach is characterized by its diverse and dynamic vocabulary, which effortlessly melds elements from both historical and contemporary contexts. He maintains a perpetual state of evolution, relentlessly pursuing the elusive core of artistic expression. Through his evocative images, Verma showcases a profound connection to his homeland and heritage while displaying an unwavering commitment to his craft. Whether he is wielding the lens in the realm of fashion or documentary photography, Shashank Verma’s work stands as a testament to the deep power of storytelling. His art illuminates the multifaceted dimensions of socio-cultural identity, community and diaspora. In his artistic exploration, he showcases a vivid narrative that transcends the boundaries of time and place, offering a captivating reflection of his diverse influences and a significant artistic vision.
> Family Archives - Letters
The project stems from discovering my grandmother’s letters written to us [family] in Bombay in 1988, especially during festivals. These letters proved to be an early inspiration as they provoked curiosity to reflect, understand the city and examine the geography, locales, and practices of Hindu daily life in the ritual and physical setting of Varanasi, the ‘holy’ city.
They navigate through the history, cultural discourses, and representations of the elements of inheritance among the natives, narrating an interesting relationship with the city.
As I went through the letters, my mother spoke to me about how things were different for her after marriage, highlighting the importance of cultural values and community. The idea of Varanasi and inheritance thus grew parallelly in my head, leading to this project.
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Words Platform Desk
Date October, 2023