Mukul Roy

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Interview with documentary photographer Mukul Roy by Emily Ellert


Bio: [by Emily Ellert] Mukul Roy was born in Udupi, India where she was raised by her mother and father [the artist declined to specify what year she was born]. She began college there and finished her first two years, called intermediary. Then she moved to Calcutta with her family and continued studying literature there. During her time in Calcutta, there were various sociopolitical movements occurring and it resulted in a lot of violence and bombings. She met her husband in Calcutta, and in 1966 they moved to England where he was continuing his studies to be a physician. During this time, Mukul quit her studies and focused on being a stay at home mom. After various moves around the U.K., for her husband’s studies, her husband got a job opportunity in Chicago. The couple moved to the South side of Chicago and stayed in an apartment provided by the hospital her husband was studying at.

In America, she felt lonely. Her husband was always busy, and she was rather bored as she had a hard time communicating in English. She decided that she wanted to get a camera and that it would be a way for her to communicate without words.

After receiving a Nikon camera from her husband, she realized she didn’t know what to do with it. She started to take classes at the Institute of Art (she believes this was the name of the college) that closed down a few semesters after she started. She decided to continue her studies at Columbia College, dabbling in some other media but ultimately sticking with photography. She received her Master’s degree and got her own exhibition at Columbia’s gallery.

At first, she was mostly taking pictures of the Chicago Indian community and was documenting various small Indian events in Chicago. She soon began to be recognized and published, with publications such as the Indian Tribune and the Chicago Tribune posting her work. More and more organizations were asking her to take pictures for them, and she began to make money off of her work.

Mukul also traveled back to India where she was hit by a huge realization: a lot had changed since she had been gone. She, herself, had changed a lot. Her old friends didn’t consider her part of the community anymore and it had a profound effect on her. She began to take pictures with a new purpose: to document anything and everything worth documenting. She didn’t want anything to be lost and have nothing she can look back on, and she wanted people to have a documented history of their community, so she pursued her art with a new passion.

After returning to Chicago, she was still working mostly in the Indian community, but branching out for certain events. She had little interest in documenting large events because they were already documented by others, but she recognizes that each person has a different perception of events. Many of her works were inspired by Indian women and the lives of Indian families in America.

She has since been exhibited at the University of Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as being published in many, many, newspapers, magazines, and other various publications. She now lives on the North side of Chicago right on Lake Shore Drive, where she continues to work on projects for her own personal collection.