In her deeply emotive and powerful new series Fireflies, Indian artist and activist Poulomi Basu foregrounds the relationship between mother and daughter. Using photography, video and sound, Basu reflects on experiences of trauma – particularly patriarchal violence – navigating the claustrophobia of home, dreams of freedom, defiance, and transcendence.
Basu is known for her work advocating for the rights of marginalised women using the power of photography as a tool for storytelling, amplifying women’s voices from the majority world. She says of the genesis of this new series: "Fireflies is a combination of ideas and of accumulated experiences which made me feel compelled to turn the camera upon myself; to tell my story of resistance and stand in solidarity with the women who have opened their lives to me.”
The artist and her mother feature prominently throughout the exhibition, oscillating between lone figures isolated in the vast expanse of sublime terrain to delicately composed portraits in which their bodies embrace. This intimate dialogue visualises how matrilineal history has been shaped through the bloodlines of collective experience, taking the viewer through a tender journey of generational healing.
Inspired by magical realism, eco-feminism and dystopian science fiction, Basu carefully orchestrates her images against the celestial beauty of the natural world. She weaves together the real and the fantastical to create a charged psychological landscape: capturing moments of love and closeness, the intensity of traumatic memory, and experiences that cannot be put into words.
Large photographs of luminous glaciers are suspended in an arc in the centre of the gallery, envisioned by the artist as portals to a parallel world, a silhouette discernible within the densely layered ice. An enigmatic soundscape resonates throughout the space, mimicking the otherworldly and disorienting landscape that appears in the newest film work as part of Fireflies, created in collaboration with filmmaker CJ Clarke.
Basu reflects, “there is so much pain, anxiety and fear behind most women I have met in life including, myself. Yet we are strong and magical. I want to celebrate both those dualities” – reminding us of the agency our bodies hold.
Please note some artworks depict nudity and the exhibition deals with sensitive issues including trauma
Poulomi Basu (b. 1983, India) has become widely known for her influential photographic projects Blood Speaks, Centralia, and To Conquer Her Land, to name a few. Her first photobook Centralia was published by Dewi Lewis in 2020. The book and exhibition won the 2020 Rencontres d'Arles Discovery Award Jury Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.
Basu is a Sundance Fellow, National Geographic Explorer, and Magnum Foundation Social Justice Fellow. Her works are part of public collections, including Autograph, London (UK); Martin Parr Foundation (UK); Museum of Modern Art (Special Collections) (USA); Rencontres d’Arles (FR); Victoria and Albert (UK), amongst others.
You can follow Basu on Instagram, and see more of the artist's work on her website.
The artist speaks with Bindi Vora to explore notions of trauma, self-care and worldbuilding in FirefliesRead more
One of Autograph’s core aims has always been to enable artists to develop their practice. In January 2020, we sent Basu on the Autograph / Light Work residency to support the creation of Fireflies. Her residency was part of our annual partnership with Light Work in Syracuse, New York – a non-profit, artist-run organisation providing direct support to emerging and under-represented artists working in photography.
In June 2021, we accessioned 22 works from the series to Autograph's Collection of Photography.
Free exhibition, 4 March - 4 June 2022
Where history has often marginalised the female voice, Sutapa Biswas’s newly-commissioned film Lumen reinstates it, not just as mainstay of family and home but as avatar of social conscience.
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