Tejal Shah (b.1979, Bhilai, India) currently lives and works between New Delhi and Goa. Working across diverse media such as video, photography, performance, sound, installation, and drawing, Shah positions her work within a feminist and queer framework. Her works have focused on topics of sex, sexuality, body, gender, nature, and culture while challenging normative social hegemonies. Currently, she is interested in the intersections of art, ecology, and healing in relation to consciousness. This is taking her deeper into interspecies studies, Buddhist philosophy and post-pornography.
Her works have shown widely in museums, galleries, and film festivals including the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (2017), Zuckerman Museum of Art, Atlanta (2017), the Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo (2016-17), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2014), documenta 13 (2012), Centre Pompidou (2011), Tate Modern (2006), and at ‘Indian Highway’ (2009) curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Gunnar B. Kvaran at the Serpentine Gallery, London, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, MAXXI, Roma, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, and the Musée d’Art Conteporain de Lyon, France, among others. Her recent shows include Facing India, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany and As it is, Mimosa House, London.
I first came across the book, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière(Georges Didi-Huberman) in 2007, while I was an artist-in-residence in Paris. The photographs from this archive center on women in the grip of unreason (or beyond reason), performing (or not?) in front of a camera and spectators.
Along with Paris based dancer and choreographer Marion Perrin, I began to develop this series of auto-portraits. It was a challenge to venture into a formal, historical and material dialogue with an archive so potent, it is really tricky, as the original photographs are so marvelous! I’ve hoped to add an extra layer through my obsessive attempt to copy the original as I re-make them into auto-portraits. This whole process has a tinge of madness, but is also a conscious flirt with madness, and of course there is the serious horror underneath. Thus the photographs become a copy of a copy, a re-enactment of what was already (at least partly) a re-enactment but was presented as a scientifically objective registration.
As an aside, here is my favourite anecdote, which encapsulates this photo series: "One of the patients was suspected of stealing some photographs from the hospital, but she indignantly denied the charge. One morning Mr. Richer found the suspected thief with her hand in the drawer containing the photographs, having already concealed some of them in her pocket. Mr. Richer approached her. She did not move; she was fixed-she was transformed into a statue, so to speak. The blows on the gong made in the adjoining ward had rendered her cataleptic at the very moment when, away from the observation of all, she committed the theft."