deSouza, Allan


Kenian, b. 1958; lives and works in San Francisco and Los Angeles, USA


Allan deSouza's photographs turn on the limits of the medium as an evidentiary representational mode. Refuting expectations of authenticity, they point, by extension, to the fallibility of documentary and historicizing narratives of all breeds. Fact and fiction merge in deSouza's recent bird's-eye landscapes, which double up single exposures to form uncannily mammalian bilateral symmetries. The artist shot these topographical photographs from airplane windows during his regular commute between two California cities. On several occasions, other passengers profiled him as a potential terrorist (deSouza is of Indian descent). The absurdity of such a claim notwithstanding, the works present compelling reconnaissance on the politics of Empire, race, and fear. Fact and fantasy converge to equal advantage in Terrain, a 1999 series which at first appears to depict sweeping landscapes of the American West, conjuring the colonial logic of Manifest Destiny celebrated by the Hudson River School painters in the mid-1800s.

DeSouza's is quite a different referent: small tabletop sculptures he fashioned from bodily detritus—eyelashes, nail clippings, skin. If humor leavens these and other projects, wit is less at cause in The Lost Pictures. In that 2003 series, deSouza had prints made of childhood slides from 1962 taken by his father in Nairobi, where the artist lived until the age of seven. Shortly after his mother's death, deSouza placed the prints about his house—in the kitchen, the shower, and the bathroom. Dust and other residue registered the passage of time, abrading and obscuring the original images almost beyond recognition. Simulating the fog of memory, the photographs suspend our reading in perpetual indeterminacy, revealing a memory-image and effacing it at the same time. Forgetting and remembering, loss and retrieval—it is these cognitive processes that are ultimately at stake here, processes in which, as deSouza's pictures suggest, photographic mediation plays an inescapable role. And yet, faded to the point of inscrutability, the series casts doubt on photography's function as mnemonic reference. The past reveals itself only through the gnarled sieve of the present, which itself reads as an elusive palimpsest haunted by the ghosts of the past it overlays.

– Clare Grace, Stanford University

Artworks by deSouza, Allan

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