Dear Nani

By Zinnia Naqvi
Ryerson Gallery

Ryerson Artspace, Toronto
July 6 – July 30, 2017

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Colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed recognizable Other

- Homi Bhabha

Dear Nani is a project that addresses issues of gender performance and colonial mimicry through the family archive.

The photographs included in this project are of my maternal grandmother, Rhubab Tapal, or Nani. Nani is performing the act of cross-dressing by wearing several different outfits that belong to her husband. The photographs were taken on her honeymoon after the couple was newly married in Quetta and Karachi Pakistan, in 1948. My grandfather or Nana, Gulam Abbas Tapal, is the photographer and presumed director of the photo session.

Dear Nani
Homi K. Bhabha states in his essay Of Mimicry and Man, "colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite.[1]" My grandparents fit into a class of Indians who, at the time, were educated under British rule. The British spent a large amount of time and resources to educate Indian men, to create a class of men that were Indian in blood but British in character. These images were taken only a single year after the partition of India and Pakistan, at a time when the two nations had been recently wounded and struggling to find peace and order.
Dear Nani

As I try to understand these images, I put myself into the unanswered questions

Dear Nani
As Nani holds a Children's Encyclopaedia produced for subjects of the British colonies, she is performing not only the role of man, but also, an Indian man performing the role of a British man. As I try to understand these images I put myself into the unanswered questions. I try on the role of my Nani as well as some of the other contributors to the images, such as the unknown children in the background. The fictional dialogue between Nani and I attempts to unpack some of the questions surrounding these images while also asking the viewer to revisit their own reading.


  1. Homi K. Bhabha, "Chapter 4, Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse" The Location of Culture. (Routledge: London and New York, 1994) pp. 125
Zinnia Naqvi
Zinnia Naqvi is an interdisciplinary artist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal and Tkaronto/Toronto. Her work examines issues of colonialism, cultural translation, language, and gender through the use of photography, video, writing, and archival material. Her works often invite the viewer to question her process and working methods.
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