Waswo X. Waswo

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Waswo X. Waswo
Born Richard John Waswo
(1953-11-13)November 13, 1953
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Known for photography, writer

Waswo X. Waswo (November 13, 1953), is an artist and writer most commonly associated with his chemical process sepia-toned photographs of India, and also hand-colored portraits made at the artist’s studio in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Waswo’s first major book, India Poems: The Photographs,[1] was in part a challenge to politically correct notions of the western artist's role in responding to Asia, and his work has been critiqued[2] in the light of cultural theories that stem from Edward Said and his book Orientalism.

Waswo was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. He studied at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and later at Studio Marangoni, the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Florence, Italy.[3] After extensive worldwide travels he settled in India in 2001, where he organized an exhibition of his Indian landscapes and portraits with the help of Alliance Française, Kashi Art Gallery, and Cymroza Art Gallery. The exhibition, called "India Poems", traveled to Cochin, Bangalore, Bombay, Udaipur and Goa, and also traveled internationally to Colombo and Kandy in Sri Lanka. "India Poems" culminated in a showing at The Haggerty Museum of Art in the artist's hometown of Milwaukee.[4]

Waswo's sepia work has been compared[5] to early 20th-century photographers such as Edward Curtis, but his inclusion of self-portraiture sometimes draws analogies to postmodernists such as Cindy Sherman. Waswo's work has encouraged debate on the ethical questions of photography, especially the question of a westerner's role in photographing a foreign land. The Indian writer and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote makes a strong defense of Waswo's work in the foreword to India Poems, but also included in the book is an essay by Bangalore-based artist Pushpamala N. titled "Photographing the Natives" which claims that Waswo follows in a long tradition of hegemonic and largely negative western depictions of the East.

Waswo's India Poems exhibitions and book were widely written about in India.[6] An article by Curtis Carter eventually appeared in The International Yearbook of Aesthetics titled "Invented Worlds: India Through the Camera Lens of Waswo X. Waswo"[7]

Since India Poems Waswo has created a series of studio portraits at his home in Udaipur, Rajasthan, following the tradition of Indian studio portraitists such as those done by Lala Deen Dayal. Waswo has collaborated with Rajesh Soni, a local craftsman who hand-paints Waswo's digital prints. A portion of this new body of work has been published as the book Men of Rajasthan by Serindia Contemporary in Chicago.[8] Waswo also has collaborated with the miniaturist painter Rakesh Vijay to create an autobiographical picture-story of his life in India and the accompanying emotions of both alienation and the sense of western privilege. Waswo’s collaborations with Rajsh Soni and R. Vijay are collectively titled "A Studio in Rajasthan" and have been written about by London-based art critic Edward Lucie-Smith.[9]

As from 2007 the artist has concentrated almost exclusively on the Studio in Rajasthan series of hand-coloured portraiture. This has resulted in several exhibitions in India and abroad, most notably "Tinted by Tradition", a retrospective of this work held at the Bhagwat Prakash Photo Gallery at Udaipur's City Palace Museum. Tinted by Tradition also traced the continuum of hand-painted photographs in the Mewar court, including examples of hand-painted photographs by Rajesh Soni's grandfather Prabhu Lal Verma (Soni).[10][11] Waswo has continued collaborating in the making of symbolic and autobiographical miniatures with the painter R. Vijay, which Waswo sees as a distinct but parallel body of work.[9]

The three collaborators, Waswo, Soni, and Vijay, mounted an exhibition titled "Confessions of an Evil Orientalist" in December 2011 at Gallery Espace in New Delhi. Incorporating more experimental media such as installation, a video, and even a comic book, the exhibition extended their normal repertoire of hand-coloured photographs and miniatures. Confessions of an Evil Orientalist revolved around a list of 101 confessions, written by Waswo in both a sincere and tongue-in-cheek manner, which alluded once again to issues of hegemony, Orientalism, and cultural acceptance. These confessions found expression within three text-based works of art in the exhibition, each viewing the words of the constructed "Evil Orientalist" from a different perspective. It has been suggested that these works moved from a post-colonial discourse to a post-post-colonial discourse.[12][13]

In India Waswo is also known as a collector of fine art prints. He regularly blogs his "Collection of Indian Printmaking", which contains historical and contemporary examples of Indian etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and screenprints. In the fall of 2011 Waswo served as Guest Editor for a trilogy on Indian Printmaking put out by the Calcutta-based art magazine Art Etc. news&views.[14] Waswo is one of the leading photographer in Project 365 and will be contributing to create the visual history of an ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle in Tiruvannamalai, a South Indian heritage town.


  1. ^ Waswo X. Waswo, India Poems: The Photographs, The Gallerie Publishers edition of "India Poems: The Photographs is: ISBN 81-901999-2-7
  2. ^ David De Souza, "Elegy in Sepia", DNA Salon, October 27, 2006.
  3. ^ Studio Marangoni's website is here.
  4. ^ Article from the webpage of the Haggerty Museum of Art.
  5. ^ "Invented Worlds: India through the Camera Lens of Waswo X. Waswo" by Dr. Curtis Carter, The International Yearbook of Aesthetics, Vol 11, 2007
  6. ^ Sudeep Sen, Atlas, "India Poems: The Photographs, Editor's Choice", Sudeep Sen, June 2007
  7. ^ Curtis Carter, "Invented Worlds: India Through the Camera Lens of Waswo X. Waswo", The International Yearbook of Aesthetics 11 (2007), Editor Gao Jianping, Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing [1]
  8. ^ Men of Rajasthan, Serindia Contemporary, Chicago, 2011
  9. ^ a b Edward Lucie-Smith and Dr. Alka Pande (catalogue essays), A Studio in Rajasthan, Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2008.
  10. ^ Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation Diary, November, 2011
  11. ^ Udaipurtimes.com, November 25, 2011
  12. ^ Kavita Singh, "A Song of Love and Longing", catalogue essay, Confessions of an Evil Orientalist, Gallery Espace, New Delhi, 2011
  13. ^ Amjad Majid, "The Role of Roles in Waswo X. Waswo's Confessions of an Evil Orientalist", ArtSlant,
  14. ^ Vikram Bacchawat, Art Etc. news&views, August, 2011

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