Photography exhibit exposes landscapes as cultural symbols

The Lederer Gallery’s first exhibition of the semester—“Heterotopia” by Shreepad Joglekar—opened on Jan. 25. The series of photographs binds two locations on opposite sides of the world (Kansas in the West and Russia in the East) by displaying how the landscape of each has become a symbol of the cultures surrounding them. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

The Lederer Gallery in Brodie Hall opened its first exhibit of the semester on Jan. 25. “Heterotopia” is brought to us by photographer Shreepad Joglekar, an immigrant from Mumbai whose work centers around the idea of “place” and around how humans interact with the natural and constructed landscapes that surround them. 

Growing up in India, Joglekar was exposed to American culture mostly through television. Early on, he was intrigued by the places and settings he saw, like the cozy coffee house of “Friends” and the idyllic home-interiors of Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone

But after arriving in the United States, Joglekar found that he was unable to relate to his surroundings; it was then that he started to use photography as a tool to investigate an environment that was so culturally different from the one he had previously known. 

Joglekar began to view landscapes as a representation of the people occupying it, instead of as a separate entity that exists independently. In other words, a landscape is a product of the culture that uses it. 

Building on this theme, “Heterotopia” is only the latest of Joglekar’s work that explores how different landscapes, places and terrains are reflective of local and national cultures. Set up in the back of the gallery is a video that includes a lecture given by Joglekar himself to provide biographic context and conceptual framework for the exhibit.

The main exhibition consists of two sets of photos, which capture two parallel—but also contrasting—environments. On the left side of the gallery, images of a live fire village at Fort Riley, Kansas hang. Live fire villages are areas crafted to simulate the conditions and the terrain of war zones overseas. 

Fort Riley was used to train U.S. soldiers before deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan; consequently, the photographs are reflective of those landscapes—stark, dusty, arid and dominated by the color beige. Although the village is in Kansas, the scenes look foreign and unfamiliar to the eyes of an average American. 

On the right side of the gallery are photos of Kronstadt, a small island off the coast of Russia near St. Petersburg. The island is home to a historic 17th century naval site, and the photos depict lush green vegetation with remnants of small structures and gardens created during times of war. Passed down through generations, the sites and gardens sustained families during the World Wars and the Russian Civil War.

 Joglekar has linked these two places with one common phenomenon. They are on opposite sides of the globe, but the two have been shaped by national and international conflict. The environments have changed—both by natural and man-driven forces—to suit the needs of the humans occupying it. 

The landscapes themselves become symbols, as the fire village represents an American military culture and as the Russian gardens symbolize defiance and independence for the people who once lived there.

Joglekar creates not only a link between distant spaces, but also between distant times. The structures in Kronstadt have been dilapidated by time—their bare wooden skeletons overtaken by the surrounding greenery. They are relics of the past, serving as a testament to the history and culture of the people of Kronstadt. The fire village in Kansas, however, is a strikingly vivid representation of our current military situation. 

As an immigrant, Joglekar is intrigued by American culture and attitude toward foreigners. He said how “out-of-sight international conflict” is important to the American cultural experience, relaying fears and assumptions about the distant other. 

As American citizens, we are privileged with the ability to live our daily lives without being actively conscious of the fact that we are, in fact, at war. In the context of recent political changes involving immigration, Joglekar’s insight and point of view is invaluable.