Switching between cultures

Different: One of the works on display.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s exhibition, Virtual Immigrants, is her perception of those working with the BPO and call centres in the City. And she calls them Virtual Immigrants.
She reasons that these workers remain physically in India but become Americans while working. They exist virtually between cultures without leaving their country of origin. “While the youngsters I interacted with seemed comfortable switching back and forth between cultures, lifestyles and accents, the older ones questioned the effects of globalisation and how far one could adopt the good from it and use it in one’s day-to-day existence,” Annu told Metrolife.

She hit upon the series on the BPO sector after she became an American citizen in Providence. She was mystified on reading the brochure that she was given titled A Welcome to USA Citizenship. It stated, “Today you have become a citizen of the United States of America. You are no longer an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Italian, a Pole.

Neither are you a hyphenated American.” These words contradicted her experience and seemed to negate her own transnationality having lived in England, India and now America. “The disconnect I had that day was only heightened when I visited my cultural homeland, India. I saw the effect of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and 1-800 call centres on my hometown Bangalore, the heartland of these call centres,” she says and adds, “these centres receive international telephone calls for everything, from customer service to technical problem solving. To work in these centres, Indians study American culture and become fluent in American idioms by watching American football games and episodes of sitcom such as Friends. They learn to either neutralise their Indian accents or adopt American ones.”

Annu soon built on this idea and interviewed a cross-section of BPO workers. Her installations consist of lenticular prints and audio excerpts of interviews with the call centre workers. Her work explores the fluidity of this new type of immigrant, the effects of globalisation including the changing attitudes about the caste system, karma or fate, women's roles and love versus arranged) marriages. Her photographs explore the magnified cultural dislocation caused by technology's collapsing of borders and shrinking of distances.

The exhibition is on at Tasveer till September 19.