Art professor’s photo exhibit on display in India examines life at surface level

Jon Jicha’s series of photographs currently on display in India grapples with the feelings of temporal and cultural dissonance that often overtake visitors to that country.

“Past in Present, Streets of India,” an exhibit currently showing at Gallery Art and Aesthetic in New Delhi, India, features large format photos taken by Jon Jicha, a Western Carolina University art professor.

The images are from September through November and explore the architectural surfaces that Jicha encountered there, which he describes as a microcosm of the country’s complex and deeply-layered history. The people of India typically do not clean, cover or remove painted ads, graffiti, fliers or other signage on exterior walls, he said.

“Public spaces and streets serve as a venue for communication throughout India, both in ancient villages and modern cities,” Jicha said. “With the old existing alongside the current environs, the visual texture becomes archival, in a sense. Seeing these surfaces connected with me, both through my lens as an artist and as a curious visitor. My aesthetic was challenged through these vignettes of life. Rather than the typical streetscapes or landscapes, I discovered the voices of people within this surface anthropology. It was those layers, of the then and the now, that led to the title of the show, ‘Past in Present.’

“The writing on the walls offers insight into the country’s cultural diversity, complex socio-political conditions, and elaborate strategies used to negotiate boundaries,” he said.

The photography took place while Jicha was an artist-in-residence and visiting scholar at the Amity University, School of Fine Arts in Noida, India. Jicha was the first ever artist-in-residence at the university. His experience also included teaching and doing research.

Jicha visited India through WCU’s Scholarly Development Assignment Program, which is offered through the Division of Academic Affairs.

Jon Jicha

“Jicha’s scholarly reassignment abroad helps promote WCU to the world and proliferate the university’s institutional profile,” said Ling Gao LeBeau, director of WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services. “This international activity also serves as a unique professional development for WCU faculty to explore global collaboration, broaden the horizon of their academic field, and ultimately benefit teaching, learning and research on campus.

“Jon had contacted me in late 2016 regarding his interest in conducting research abroad during his scholarly reassignment period in 2017. We worked together to explore WCU’s partner institutions and other resources,” she said. “I helped identify Amity University, a topnotch private university in India, with a memorandum of understanding with WCU. He also traveled around in India to visit and lectured at several other universities. Another outcome from his visit helped WCU build a future relationship with one more partner in India ― Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.”

Jicha said he plans to continue his artistic work in India and expand his research into cultural forms and contexts.