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Trauma, Defiance and Transcendence:
Poulomi Basu's Fireflies

Highlights from Basu's solo exhibition at Autograph

Poulomi 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. Basu's solo exhibition Fireflies, curated by Bindi Vora was held at Autograph's gallery in London in March - June 2022. Here, we're sharing highlights from the exhibition with Basu's words.

In her deeply emotive and powerful exhibition, the Indian artist and activist 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.

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.

Please note some of the artworks depict nudity and deal with sensitive issues including trauma.

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Installation view of Poulomi Basu: Fireflies, 4 Mar – 4 Jun 2022.  Curated by Bindi Vora.

Fireflies is a response to the trauma of my own background as told through the relationship between my mother and I… this work navigates the blood lines of our collective trauma, mapping an elemental journey of survival. The work is an act of embodied activism. It is an act of sharing one’s way of listening to the body, listening to the earth and each other, in a way that supports others to do the same.“

“Fireflies is about having agency over issues of shame and seeing our bodies as a space of political warfare and self-love. From the claustrophobia of the home, through to dreams of escape and transcendence, this is a kinetic and spiritual work lingering on the fragility of time and our earthly insignificance when contrasted against the celestial wonder of the natural world.”


"The work navigates the intersections of embodiment and social justice, and in so doing, becomes about dismantling oppression, and essentially resurrection, which form the larger themes in the work. These works are an accumulation of stories about women, the environment, and about systemic violence that I deeply care for and that I feel need to be addressed."

"For me, one of the most important struggles is in trying to recover our voices and in so doing, the realisation that our silence will not save us. Fireflies is a journey of coming out and reclaiming yourself, reclaiming your body and reclaiming your voice."

"The work is really a fable, narrating intricate and hugely imaginative tales about violence, race, life, death and above all love."

"Trauma is so hard to process, and the triggers are so fierce that you almost avoid every single space and every single conversation that can trigger the trauma until you finally find yourself on a day when you are ready to face it. It’s taken until now for my mother and I to both feel ready to tell our story."

"Fireflies is intergalactic, it grapples with science fiction and the fantastical – it provides a way of envisaging your world now and your world in another dimension – a space of freedom and transcendence. I see this as a brave new world where survivors of domestic violence can find themselves in a space that is their own, one they can build and nurture."

"When I was 17, my mother told me to leave home so that I would be able to live a life of freedom and choice that had been denied to her, and my grandmother, who were both child brides and then young widows. On a regular basis my mother was reminded that her life was never her own and it was controlled by men."

"The work moves between Calcutta and otherworldly landscapes shot across different parts of the world, including Iceland. I want to express the idea that there is another world that will soon be realised, and women are going to be in the centre of it: they are going to create and build that world."

"Women are powerful and magical yet there is a lot of struggles laced in our history and constant battleground of misogyny and patriarchy. 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."

"I want to force the audience to examine how societies —future and present —treat women and the planet."

"I owe it to the women who have opened themselves up to me. I want them to know that we are fighting this oppression together. We are doing this with collective agency. Our voice of resistance.”

"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."

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.

Installation view of Poulomi Basu: Fireflies, 4 Mar – 4 Jun 2022. Curated by Bindi Vora.

about the artist

Poulomi Basu

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.


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Installation images: Poulomi Basu: Fireflies exhibition at Autograph, London, 4 Mar – 4 Jun 2022. Curated by Bindi Vora. Photographs by Zoë Maxwell.

Images on page: Poulomi Basu, from Fireflies, 2019 – ongoing.

Discover more images: 1) Installation image of Poulomi Basu: Fireflies. Exhibition at Autograph, London, 4 Mar – 4 Jun 2022. Curated by Bindi Vora. Photograph by Zoë Maxwell. 2) Poulomi Basu, from Centralia [detail], 2019 - present. 3 - 5) Poulomi Basu, from Fireflies, 2019 – ongoing.

All images by Poulomi Basu are © and courtesy the artist.