1 2 3 4

Mountain Pose, 2010-2012

installation with 20 contour models made from yoga mats (72" L x 24" W x variable height each), silk-screened text on mirror panels

Mountain Pose is a room-sized installation consisting of twenty contour elevation models made from stacked yoga mats. Each model depicts a different hill station in India. Hill stations were isolated mountain settlements established by colonial governments throughout Asia for use as sanitaria, military cantonments, or as summer capitals to escape the tropical heat and density of lowland cities. The models in the installation map the most important and strategically significant hill stations during the British Raj, including Simla (the summer capital of the Raj) and Nainital north of Delhi; Murree in the Northwest Frontier Provinces (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); Dalhousie in Kashmir; Mussoorie and Lansdowne near the popular yoga retreats in the United Provinces (present-day Uttarakhand State); Mahabaleshwar, Matheran, and Lonavla outside Bombay (present-day Mumbai); Darjeeling and Shillong in Bengal and Assam (present-day West Bengal and Meghalaya); and Ootacamund, Kodikanal, and Yercaud south of Madras (present-day Chennai).

Mountain Pose draws on discourses regarding purity, detachment, and moral superiority that link the transnational history of modern yoga practice with the colonial planning policies of the British Empire. Yoga practice in North America and Europe today—conceived as a set of mental and bodily techniques—can be traced back to yoga philosophies adapted for Western export by Swami Vivekananda who envisioned an intercultural exchange in which Indian spiritual capital—through the practice of yoga—would be "traded" for Western support of Indian nation-building. Vivekananda also conceptualized yoga as a movement that would strengthen the Indian body politic through indigenous rather than British forms of mental and physical discipline. Modified in various ways since the 1960s for Western consumers, yoga has been reinterpreted as an individual quest for purification and wellness (although Vivekananda's original yoga principles called for community engagement) and transformed into both a health commodity and a form of cultural capital associated with the interest in exotic Eastern philosophies. The once pristine and isolated Himalayan regions of northern India are now spiritual epicenters and destinations for yoga tourism. Here the political history of yoga intertwines with British colonial fixations with cleanliness, separation, and aloofness as embodied in the colonialists' retreat into the hill station. The British sought altitudes of up to 7,500 feet to build remote settlements that reproduced a nostalgic space of refined, idyllic English life in order to set themselves apart from the Indian subjects that they ruled. Aside from functioning as exclusive European enclaves, hill stations were also ideal sites for military posts and government bureaus, where activities such as surveillance and governance could be exercised with greater physical and symbolic authority. The hill stations were a powerful metonymy for imperial dominance and moral superiority built on concepts of purity, isolation, and distinction, desires that are stratified and reproduced in the Western embrace of yoga practice.

Design by Thought Bubble Studios