Virtual Immigrants is a show with lenticular prints by US-based Indian artist Annu Palakunnathu Matthew—professor of art (photography) at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island. On display are sets of images and audio excerpts of interviews with call centre workers on their dual lives—at work and at home. Lenticular prints are photographs that consist of two or more images which have been spliced and reassembled against a lenticular lens so that from one angle the viewer sees an image and from another angle a different image. Matthew has combined portraits of the call center workers in their “work” clothes which are usually western with pictures of the same workers dressed in Indian clothes that he / she may wear for a more formal occasions like weddings. Edited excerpts:
Images of a call-centre worker in Bangalore.
You have lived in the UK, in India and now in the US. Does this set of works reflect your search for identity?
The work is about my experience of having lived between three cultures. It’s about my trans-cultural identity. I became a US citizen about four years ago. During the ceremony they give you a book which says you can’t consider yourself a hyphenated American. You will be just American and to me that negated my whole experience of living in three cultures. It got me thinking about the call centre workers that I had met, who seemed more American than me. He has to be American at the work place and live an Indian life.
The Indian and western sides of a call-centre worker
I began exploring the idea more and discovered the virtual immigrant and discovered some similarity with my own experience. My artwork explores the fluidity of this new type of immigrant. The work also explores the magnified cultural dislocation caused by technology’s collapsing of borders and shrinking of distances.
The concept of using lenticular prints, is that how you planned to execute this right from the beginning?
After photographing a number of people I notice that they would very often stand in very similar ways and so initially I put them next to each other but the experience of the print worked as a metaphor of the two people in one person. So while the audio interviews of the BPO workers are playing in the background, the viewer has to go back and forth to see the two images in the lenticular print. The prints add a lot to the whole viewing experience.
The dual personalities of female BPO employee
Did you find that the switching had negative psychological effects on the BPO workers?
There isn’t an easy answer to that question. There have been some positives while there have been some negatives. The interviews caused people to think about the consequences of globalization and how much we can adapt and how much we cannot adapt to.
One of the participants in this work pointed out that he found it very difficult to switch back and forth, and was more comfortable being just Indian. He left an international call centre and joined an Indian one.
Was it difficult to get them to talk about their personal experiences?
An Indian couple adapting to the western work culture
I spent over 20 years in Bangalore and I know a number people in the industry. Because of their trust and my clear explanation of what the project was about they agreed to participate. When I first started it was going to be a comparison of the virtual immigrant with the actual immigrant to the US but as I started doing the interviews, I didn’t quite connect so much with long-term immigrants. So I decided to concentrate only on the virtual immigrant.
Virtual Immigrants at Tasveer, Bangalore until 19 September after which the show will travel to Delhi in January 2010.