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Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 6.1 (2005) 82-113

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Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's Alien

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The kind and degree of contradiction that exists between the historical specificities of immigrant displacement and racialization and canonized forms of national culture generates formal deviations whose significances are misread if simply assimilated as modernist or postmodernist aesthetic modes. . . . Asian American work emerges out of very different contradictions of modernity: out of the specific conditions of racialization in relation to modern institutions of state government, bourgeois society's separate spheres, and the liberal citizen subject.
——Lisa Lowe 1996, 31–32
the ethics of liberation defines itself as transmodern. (because the postmoderns are still Eurocentric)
——Enrique Dussel 1998, 19

For someone growing up in India, subjectivity was ringed by the constant, cacophonous, cross-referential buzz that Bollywood has generated. Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's photographic redrawing of Bollywood film posters, entitled Bollywood Satirized, brings us up to date with another arm, another trajectory of the "native" South Asian experience of Bollywood: its mediating function within the diasporic cultural imaginary and homeland. Arjun Appadurai has written that "the nationalist genie, never perfectly contained in the bottle of the territorial state, is now itself diasporic" (1996, 160–61). The role of Bollywood in the U.S. diaspora is being debated and disputed widely these days;1 even "off-Bollywood" Indian cinema has taken up the topic. A scene from Piyush Dinkar Pandya's film American Desi [End Page 82] (2001) offers us a whiff of the cinematic capital made of the desi2 viewer's love-hate relationship with Bollywood. In this scene the female South Asian college student Nina takes pains to initiate her equally second-generation but less India-identified romantic interest Krishna into the pleasures of watching Bollywood classics. Krishna, however, is thoroughly bored and alienated by what he considers formulaic and threadbare plots interrupted by seven or eight fantasy song-and-dance sequences.3 The romance matures only after the lost desi Krishna reembraces his desiness and reconnects with his roots vis-à-vis Bollywood and Bollywood-influenced public dance and performance rituals on the American university campus.

I begin with Matthew's Bollywood Satirized series because the primary aim of the present essay is to explore Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's work as a radical, powerful intervention in the discourse on the sort of mediated diaspora identity captured in American Desi. In the spatialized as well as displaced discovery and reinstatement of Bollywood taking place in the West today, the South Asian diaspora—desis such as Nina and Krishna—plays a key role, of course. Their nostalgia, their triadic political identity (shuttling among home, adopted country, and cosmopolitan and cosmocratic aspirations), and their love of visual culture and performance, it has been argued, are carving for Bollywood a hybridized public space in the performance venues of the United States and Britain, to name only two major Western sites of visual and cinematic production and consumption.4 However, while Bollywood is much fêted by international audiences and artists alike,5 it is also coming under scrutiny by diasporic artists and activists who mine and interrogate the power of its images by drawing attention to their unreconstructed sexism, classism, homophobia, and other ills.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew is gaining fame and recognition as an artist-activist. Her recent works have been shown at the Houston Center for Photography; Light Work in Syracuse, New York; Sepia International in New York City; DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts; and Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York.6 Her work has also recently been showcased in the Victoria and Albert Museum's summer 2002 series entitled Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood. Among her works, Bollywood Satirized, 1998–2001, and An Indian from India, 2001, were held at Light Work in Syracuse, New York, as well as at other venues, and [End Page 83]

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Figure 1
Alien, Title Page.
[End Page 84]

one catalog, entitled Alien: Born in England, Grew Up in India, Becoming American (2002...


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