October 11, 2018

This is culture. But at what cost?

Ross Fergus


I took this photograph in India, specifically Amritsar; a city stained with a history of British colonial oppression. I visited Amritsar with hopes to discover Punjabi culture, however I left feeling conflicted. I was in awe, everywhere I looked, there was action, street vendors, Sikhist ceremonies, tuk-tuk drivers, people cooking etc. In the UK, Amritsar is very much advertised as a cultural hub. But at what cost? Behind this façade of “cultural activity” is an undeniable poverty. These street vendors, tuk-tuk drivers, street chefs, aren’t some sort of spectacle purposed for the means of creating socio-cultural intrigue for Western-tourists—they are trying to make a living. Pigeonholing the aforementioned city-grind as some sort of cultural spectacle sweeps legitimate problems of colonially-imposed-poverty under the rug. Visiting Amritsar left me feeling guilty, as if I’d come to sadistically enjoy the aftermath of my ancestors’ misconduct. Amritsar is beautiful, as are the people who live there. I hope this photograph shows that. However just as the subject wipes sweat from his face, it’s important to admit: Behind this immense culture lies a history of oppression, suffering and poverty, which we, as Westerners, must feel some sort of remorse for.