When Priya Kambli moved from India to America in 1993, she could take only what would fit into one suitcase. Her “Suitcase Series” deals with this physical and mental move, and the attendant intellectual editing of snapshots, items, and ultimately memory. Each constructed case deals with a different theme and corresponds to a different hue, incorporating objects and photographs with intricate artisanship.
These memory objects and personal relics reference vintage vernacular objects often produced for the home as well as domestic handiwork. Displayed open, the silk-lined boxes also recall early cased photographs in material and color. In Red, a top is situated above a photograph of her family sewn over with a spiral pattern, mimicking the trajectory of the spinning toy. This act serves symbolically to stitch her memory back together again and also obscure it. Kambli utilizes many objects and items that reference the body or stand for a person or entity (common additions to vernacular photographic items): a family bracelet in Orange; a governmental ID photo paired with a small tin of sindoor (the red pigment applied to the parted hair of a married woman) in Black; and a personnel counter in Black 2. These embellished artworks further allude to the tactile nature of the vernacular—displaying the touch of the artist as well as begging to be touched.
Kambli received her MFA from University of Houston and currently teaches photography at Truman State University, Missouri. She was recently awarded an AIR residency at the Woodstock Center for Photography and a 2004 Fellowship from the Houston Center for Photography.
When I moved to America in 1993 I crammed 18 years of my life into one suitcase. It weighed approximately 45 kg. It wasn't until recently that I started thinking about the objects that I chose to bring and their selection process. The objects were chosen for their magnetic ability of attracting and repelling memories. The status of these chosen objects increased substantially to the level of sacred relics for having being touched or given by a loved one, etc. These souvenirs contain within them the ability to vividly conjure memories of the past. Distilling ones life to fit the finite parameters of a suitcase meant editing—the inevitability of certain memories being discarded while others attain a new significance. It further implied simplification of ones past—untangling the chaotic web so that a clear succinct pattern emerged.
In the Suitcases series, I am interested in juxtaposing snippets of information that interact with each other to convey an open-ended narration. The essence of the series is the dialogue created by pairing of fragments. The items contained within the suitcases are sticky with associations and often pertain to travel. Each suitcase deals with a separate theme and corresponds to a specific hue. Color is the origin of each piece, giving each suitcase its individual personality and focus by dictating the objects it contains and their relationships. Even though the suitcases are self contained and conceived to function independently they all share many physical and conceptual characteristics.
CAPTION: Priya Kambli (Kirksville, MO), Red from the Suitcase Series, 2002, mixed media installation, photograph with stitches, yellow thread and red silk, 13 x 17 x 6 inches, courtesy of the artist. Kambli received her MFA from University of Houston and currently teaches photography at Truman State University, Missouri. She was recently awarded an AIR residency at the Woodstock Center for Photography and a Fellowship from the Houston Center for Photography.