Max Kandhola (b. 1964 – )
The Last Seven Words of Christ, 2020
Seven di-bond photographs (mounted onto aluminium and encased within a di-bond)
25.5cm x 25.5cm (x 7 images)
Loaned by the artist
The Last Seven Words of Christ 1997 – 2021
‘The Christ figure is black, with dreads, and a crown of thorns, which blend into the hair.’ There are multiple layers of interpretation when considering this work. The historical significance of Day’s original photographs his own sexuality, the rise of the black theology movement in Britain in the late twentieth century, and in Kandhola’s reinterpretation of work in relation to the representation of individuals of African descent, or more specifically non-European descent, in what Kandhola refers to as ‘the dilution of history through literature, and paintings within Western culture.‘[i]
Max Kandhola’s “The Last Seven Words of Christ” considers contemporary photographic art in the context of photographic history, while raising issues of authorship, de-colonization, and the ownership of cultural history. Kandhola has produced an elaborately staged contemporary response to F. Holland Day’s iconic exercise in self-portraiture “The Seven Words” (1898) in which the photographer portrays himself as the dying Christ in a series of beautifully crafted platinum print. Day was a leading light of the photographic movement known as Pictorialism, whose proponents aimed to establish the photograph as art, by espousing a object-centric, often highly manipulated image with a painterly surface. This powerfully influential style is primarily associated with white, upper-class men, as until recently, has been the case with the history of photography. By reimagining Day’s somber Christ as a person of color rendered in a vibrant contemporary style, Kandhola forces us to consider both Day’s work and the world it was shaped by in terms of today.
‘the face of ‘Christ’ now appears to melt into the unfathomable depths of a deep purple. Light seems to leak from his skull; through his nostrils, hair, ears, and the crack between his eyelids, turning these edge-lands of the body into spaces of electric energy, where light and dark merge and flow into each other. In these images the solid is transfigured, dissolving into a nebulous sea of colour’.[ii]
Kandhola has intentionally set out to challenge both the idea of a high-art photographic canon and the complex baggage of Christianity in a world that is increasingly multi-cultural. In addition to the work itself, the artist has undertaken exhibitions in a wide variety of secular and sacred spaces, allowing the image content to interact with space, site, architecture and history. Kandhola is fully familiar with 19th and 20th century histories of photography. His response to Day’s iconic series is thoughtful and appropriate. Kandhola is also aware of the much longer history of representations of Christ in painting. Recent photographic art is often disconnected from the specialized history of the medium, and religious subjects are unusual. By challenging these common aspects of contemporary practice, Kandhola places his work in several longer, broader contexts, and himself, as a British Punjabi Sikh, in a unique position to comment on Western culture.[iii]
Alison Nordström, PhD, Independent Scholar/Curator of Photographs
Museum Associate, Peabody Museum, Harvard University & Visiting Scholar, Graduate Department of Photography and Integrated Media, Lesley University
‘The artist portrays the body as being still, but maintains traces of precedent moving, active choices and working towards this theatrical pose, creating a critical commentary on practices of fragmentation, selective seeing, and restrictive cultural processes. However, the body is restored as a source of knowledge and self-perception – the emblematic crown of thorns is an extension of the body, a symbol of expanding agency and reclaiming authority over the relationship between body and space. The instruments of controlling black masculinity are challenged, together with the pervasive ways of appropriating black male bodies in Western visual culture.
The imagery featured in Christianity produces a shocking effect, leading to a visual bypass of symbols and signs, while materializing critical interrogations and protest’.[iv]
[i] Max Kandhola, quote taken from essay by Gary Hesse, 2002, Contact Sheet no 122, LightWork Annual 2003
[ii] The Last Seven Words of Christ, Revd Dr Richard Davey visiting Fellow – Nottingham Trent University 2011
[iii] The short introduction was originally written for the installation, The Last Seven Words of Christ, at St Marks Church in The Bowery, New York, Feb – April 2020 by Alison Nordstrom.
[iv] The Black Male Body, Violence and Representation in American Visual Culture, 2013, Elena-Larisa Stanciu
Max Kandhola is a British Punjabi Sikh, a renowned fine art photographer and a Principal Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, teaching on theory and practice. He is represented by PhotoInk http://www.photoink.net/ in India and manages his studio from Birmingham England. He was twice the recipient of the prestigious Light Work Artist in Residency at Syracuse New York. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and published 4 monographs. The photographic work is positioned within the context of Black and Asian identity and histories. Kandhola’s photography is held in major public and private collections in England, Europe, America and India, including, The Deutsche Bank Collection and Government Art Collection UK. His most recent exhibitions include The Last Seven Words of Christ in collaboration with St Marks Church In The Bowery, New York, Feb- March 2021 and 2020 and ‘u fucking paki’ FotoFest 2018 Biennial: India/Contemporary Photographic and New Media Art, Houston, Texas, United States, 10 March – 22 April 2018. Max is a member of FACE https://www.weareface.uk/members to challenge the lack of Black and Brown academics in the system, which directly impacts the experience of all young creatives but especially Black and Brown students FACE demands acknowledgement of the contribution of Black culture and creativity, to history, society and to fashion.