A photographer, transmedia artist and activist known for her portrayals of gender discrimination and sexual violence, Poulomi Basu’s work has largely focused on under-reported issues and political events in the country, such as the Maoist insurgency in central India.
Basu was born in Kolkata and studied sociology from the Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai, followed by a Master’s in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the University of Arts, London, in 2010. Inspired by the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and American photographer Robert Franks, Basu’s photographs aim to capture spontaneous moments and the emotions of her subjects within their political and social spheres.
Basu’s first project, To Conquer Her Land (2009), chronicled female soldiers on the India–Pakistan border and explored how women redefine their roles within a society that subjugates them. In 2015, Basu, along with photographer CJ Clarke, launched Just Another Photo Festival, a travelling visual media festival with the aim of democratising photography by taking it to public spaces where photos are usually not exhibited.
Her second project, Blood Speaks: A Ritual of Exile (2018) is a transmedia endeavour that examines the social, emotional and physical consequences of violence on women in the name of tradition. The project began with Basu’s Rituals of Exile series, which documented a traditional practice in Nepal called chaupadi, where young women were forced to be isolated in makeshift huts while menstruating owing to them being viewed as polluting agents. She further adapted the work into the virtual reality medium, following three women from the community and their experiences while forced into exile. Her work contributed to the eventual criminalisation of chaupadi in 2017.
In 2020, Basu published her photobook, Centralia, which features photographs taken over a ten-year period, documenting the environmental degradation, violation of indigenous and female rights, and state repression in central India. Combining staged photography with photos of crime scenes, police records and testimonies, the book creates a documentary fiction that highlights the differences between state narratives and ground reality in the region. She was awarded the Rencontres d’Arles Louis Roederer Discovery Award Jury Prize in 2020 as well as the National Geographic Explorer Award 2020 for this work.
In addition to individual projects, Basu has also worked on a number of campaigns, such as To Be A Girl (2014), with WaterAid, and #MyBodyIsMine (2018), in collaboration with Action Aid. She has also made short films on teen violence in New York and the mental harassment faced by gay men.
Basu was awarded the Magnum Foundation Social Justice Fellowship in 2012 and the Magnum Emergency Fund in 2016, as well as the Photographic Museum of Humanity Grant in 2018. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, BBC, NPR and The New York Times, among others, and been exhibited internationally, including at the Getty Gallery, London (2010); the Strand Art Gallery, Mumbai (2009); and the Beijing International Art Biennale (2015).
As of writing, she lives and works between Kolkata and London.
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