In partnership with Vacheron Constantin

Subjects and Spaces

Tasveer is delighted to present ‘Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography’, an exhibition showcasing the portrayal of women in Indian photography from the 1850s to the 1970s. The show presents a unique selection of images from the archives of the Tasveer Foundation, including studio portraits, film stills, post cards, cabinet cards and lobby cards. These various photographic mediums take us on a journey from colonial studies of Indian women in the 19th century, to private studio portraits from the early 20th century, and then to iconic and glamorous photographs of Bollywood actresses from the 40s and 50s. The exhibition therefore offers a unique insight into the social and cultural milieu of one of the most renowned periods of Indian history, whilst investigating the function of the photographic medium during this time.

The dramatic development and growth of print, photographic and cinematic culture through the late 19th and early 20th centuries radically transformed the representation and circulation of the female image in the public sphere. Amplifying and distributing the female body in modes previously unimagined, which recast the Indian feminine identity through the lens of colonial respectability and morality. The female form entered the public sphere in India through a variety visual culture that inundated colonial modernity - in portraiture, and studio images, in newspapers, magazines, commercial and advertising imagery, posters, film and theatre bills.

Photography and film evolved distinctive strategies for the presentation of the female body, such as lingering close-ups, seductive frontal displays, luxuriating reclining figures, women bathing or set against imaginative, romanticised European-inspired landscapes. Interestingly, rather than a chronological presentation, the photographs in this exhibition are divided into five distinct sections, investigating the social and cultural status of women within a variety of spaces in the colonial context. From indoor, domestic spaces that demonstrate realms of household and ideals of demure, chaste womanhood, to the performative spaces (within cinema and theatre), where women were represented in enclosures of fantasy and sexuality, to the abstract spaces, exploring pictorial self-representation. This segmentation questions the notions and perceptions of Indian feminine identity, and examines the modes of cultural perception — the ways of viewing and of being viewed by different audiences, and how spacial enclosures may alter the viewer’s perception of the subject.

Juxtaposing iconic images of cinema legends such as Nargis and Vyjayanthimala, with subjects that remain anonymous and nameless, invites audiences to engage with the gaze of subjects, eliciting the identity of the sitter through clues from within the space occupied by the subject, their dress, garments and pose. Provoking a dialogue between the public gaze and the private self, between national and international audiences, between coded notions of respectability and morality and in doing so, investigating the representational power of the female form.

A limited edition boxed folio of prints from this exhibition is available online at

 This exhibition will be on in Mumbai in collaboration with Saffronart


Exhibition Schedule


28 September - 05 October 2021

3rd Floor, Industry Manor
Mumbai 400025



08 November - 17 November 2021

National Institute of Design
Ahmedabad 380007



12 May - 22 May 2022

The Seagull Foundation for the Arts
36C S.P. Mukherjee Road
Kolkata  700 025