Waswo X. Waswo: Together with Otherness


Waswo X. Waswo is a fine art photographer based in Udaipur, Rajasthan, who is widely known for his collaborative hand-painted photographs. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the USA, he studied at The Milwaukee Center for Photography, and Studio Marangoni, The Centre for Contemporary Photography in Florence, Italy. He is also a writer whose books include India Poems: The Photographs, published by Gallerie Publishers in 2006, Men of Rajasthan, published by Serindia Contemporary in 2011 (hardcover 2014), and Photowallah published by Tasveer in 2016. In 2019, his latest book, Gauri Dancers, was published by Mapin. Waswo has lived and travelled in India for over twenty years and he has made his home in Udaipur, Rajasthan, for the past thirteen. There he collaborates with a variety of local artists including the photo hand-colourist Rajesh Soni. He has also produced a series of semi-autobiographical miniature paintings in collaboration with the artist R. Vijay. This collaborative miniature work was documented in the book The Artful Life of R. Vijay by Dr. Annapurna Garimella. Waswo is most known for addressing issues of “otherness” and collaboration in his work.



1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?


WXW: I grew up in a household that was infused with art. My mother painted landscapes with oils. I was an avid reader in my youth, and my teachers encouraged my writing abilities, so in college I actually studied creative writing and journalism with dreams of becoming an author, but the way visual art communicated so directly, without words, kept haunting me. Eventually I started to play with materials and make my first pieces, which were folkish but abstract. A small number of them sold, and I was tremendously enjoying the process and the milieu of the art scene, so I kept at it. Later I went back to school and studied fine art photography. Visuals have been my path forward ever since. Quite a few journalists still refer to me as a poet, but the truth is that I haven’t seriously written a poem in years.


2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?


WXW: I work with a small team of collaborators in Udaipur, so often we have several projects going on at once. Rajesh Soni and I are always making photographs, which Rajesh hand-colours. R. Vijay paints the miniatures for which we’re so well-known, with some help from his assistant, Dalpat Singh. So many projects have happened this year, but I think the two most interesting have been the series we call “The Intruder”, and another we’ve yet to finish called “Dreams of the Nayika”. In the first, we’re actually inserting our little “fedora man” (that appears in all of our miniatures) into vintage “Curry and Rice” lithographs by George Franklin Atkinson. I had noticed that Atkinson’s illustrations for this book were somewhat akin to our own work, being that they are satire upon the foreign presence in India. Through my direction, R. Vijay has masterfully painted our character into Atkinson’s fabular village of “Kabob”; subverting these depictions and also harmonizing with them to create an entirely different tale. The suite of miniatures that we’re currently working on is called “Dreams of the Nayika”, which, when completed, will be an eight-panel suite that puts a strange and homoerotic twist upon this traditional genre.

Nayika 1, from the suite Dreams of the Nayika (suite of 8), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

11 x 11 inches (including gold border), Gouache and gold on wasli paper, 2020

Nayika 2, from the suite Dreams of the Nayika (suite of 8), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

11 x 11 inches (including gold border), Gouache and gold on wasli paper, 2020

Nayika 3, from the suite Dreams of the Nayika (suite of 8), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

11 x 11 inches (including gold border), Gouache and gold on wasli paper, 2020

The Intruder 1, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020

The Intruder 4, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020

The Intruder 7, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020

The Intruder 8, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020

The Intruder 20, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020

The Intruder cover, from the series The Intruder (suite of 20), by Waswo X. Waswo with R. Vijay,

6 x 8.5 inches, Gouache on vintage George Franklin Atkinson lithographs (Curry and Rice),

Unique Edition, 2020


3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?


WXW: I enjoy all forms of art, and, in the past, we’ve produced works in some of the newer mediums such as video and installation. I feel we ought to do more text-based works, as I’m still very much drawn to the power of words. Our overall body of work, however, is rooted in an appreciation of craft, and ideas of reskilling and reinvention in traditional forms. So obviously that will always be the base of strength that we draw upon. In a digital and postmodern world, grounding oneself in tradition becomes a radical act.


4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?


WXW: It is both. There have been times that our work has become quite political. Issues of the ecology, racial harmony, and civilizational strengths and weaknesses have made appearances in what we do. But for the most part I view art as a personal expression: moods, feelings, thoughts of the individual. Much of our work deals with otherness and belonging. But you can’t separate politics from the expressions of the individual, so of course politics which reflect upon society are a part of what we do. Rajesh and R. Vijay and I agree that the purpose of art is to reveal and explore humanity. Humanizing in a sensitive way has a social purpose in and of itself.


5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?


WXW: I have my photography studio, about a half-hour’s drive outside of Udaipur, in the village of Varda. It’s very basic (I call it my cowshed) but we all love to visit it because the village and the landscape is so beautiful, and the people so warm and friendly to us. My home in Udaipur becomes an extremely cluttered office, and sometimes we do projects there as well. There’s also a small godown where we store old frames and my long-time assistant Ganpat Mali boxes and ships to exhibitions. Because I collaborate with a team of artists in what we call the “karkhana” (which is the name of a traditional miniature painting workshop), the four artists that I collaborate with all have their own studio spaces too. Ganpat and I spend much of our day shuttling between these spaces in his Jeep or on his Enfield. Quite often we all have parties on the studio roof in Varda. There’s a lot of bonding that goes on; we’re a close-knit team.

The Varda Studio

R. Vijay at work in his studio

R. Vijay

Rajesh Soni hand-painting a photograph


6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?


WXW: I can’t predict this. For sure, more will go online, and it already has. It seems that a younger generation will be demanding art more attuned to social concerns. On the flip side of that, lockdowns, isolation, and loss are sure to breed some soul-searching and highly personal, intimate, art. There will be change, but how radical a change is difficult to predict.


7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice . Does it get reflected

in your art?


WXW: I’m incredibly focused on art. Of course, I’m interested in other things: politics, food, travel, friends . . . but nearly all my waking hours revolve around art. You could say I’m obsessed.


(All images courtesy of Waswo X Waswo)

The artamour questionnaire is a regular series of interviews with visual artists across disciplines, who share their views about art, their practice and their worldview on a common questionnaire template. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.

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