Arjuna Keshvani-Ham is a British Indian artist and documentary filmmaker. She received her BA in English and German Language and Literature at the University of Oxford (2021) and MA at the Royal College of Art (2023). Her work and research have focussed on addressing unresolved historical legacies–particularly those of empire–through a blending of fictional and documentary approaches.
My practice is directed by an interest in the ways that objects & bodies retain memories of trauma, violence and displacement, and in the complex ways in which these memories resurface.
I like to work with the document and with the archive; I also like to work with fictions. My works - texts, films, paintings and sculptures - breathe between these two layers.
I often fixate on gaps and silences. I see objects as living and porous, seared with history.
The challenge of my practice: attempting to renegotiate the gap between the body and the archive. We often see history as a thing of the past; I see the past everywhere. Sometimes I am blinded by it.
I am also driven constantly by a fascination with the history of technologies of mass reproduction.
My current project, Migrant Images, is a triptych of essay films that attempt to grapple with questions of (among other things) - histories of displacement, generational trauma, (mis)translation, and the history and legacies of colonial image production.
Finding Your Mother
To lose your mother is to be severed from your kin, to forget your past, and to inhabit the world as an outsider
- Saidiya Hartman
Migrant Images I: Finding Your Mother stages an encounter with a collection of found objects: a set of colonial postcards and a collection of photographs and films drawn from the artist's family archive. A consideration of the legacies, technologies and history of colonial image-making is interwoven with personal reflections on the artist's own experience of travelling through Mumbai whilst returning to her grandfather's home in India through letters addressed to her mother. The film uses superimposition of images––a modern reinterpretation of illusion-building strategies like double exposure used in the production of colonial postcards––to draw attention to the illusion of photography's indexicality.
Snapshots of Lagos
Migrant Images II: Snapshots of Lagos is a site-specific investigation into a triangulation of sites – a museum, a mass grave, and a monument – in Lagos, a forgotten town on the coast of Portugal to which many historians trace the roots of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Beginning as an attempt at forensic investigation, descending quickly into a labyrinth of self-doubt, the film develops a voice which is unceasingly – obsessively – self-reflective, a gaze dramatically aware of itself as mediated. Simultaneously, the narratorial voice draws attention to and reflects on its role as a witness to historical trauma, to a story over which the speaker gradually realises she has no claim.
This film is part of an ongoing interdisciplinary and collaborative project with various iterations: a digital archive, essay films, documentaries, public interventions.
The House My Grandfather Built
Migrant Images III: The House My Grandfather Built interrogates the gaps and silences at the heart of the artist's family history, one of constant movement, migration & displacement. She returns to the village in India which her grandfather left as a teenager in the years following partition in 1947. A series of colonial-style postcards made by the artist, which capture scenes of everyday life in her grandfather's hometown become the prompts for an oblique opening up of repressed histories - both on the individual and national levels.