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Common ground

Friday, October 05, 2018

Experts discuss location, geography and cultural specifics that influence contemporary image-making. Ronita Torcato reports

In December, the  Alkazi Foundation for the Arts memorializing  the legendary  theatre director and drama teacher  Ebrahim Alkazi, will present a photography exhibition   at Goa’s Serendipity Arts Festival (December 15 – December 22, 2018).  In a run up to the Goa exhibition which is a collaborative effort with the National Institute of Design among others,  Alkazi's grandson and curator of the  New Delhi-based Foundation, Rahaab Allana  organised a symposium of the same name at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai with the aim of “ generating ideas  around the place and changing significance of  interrelated visual cultures in our present which have led to differing sensibilities about high and low and imitative, innovative and reproductive forms of representation. “

Ranjit Hoskote, poet, cultural theorist, and curator gave the keynote address prior to talks which focused on photography, the moving image as well as literature.The opening session saw designer and  art historian Annapurna Garimella,  photographer Anusha Yadav, and visual artist Abhishek Hazra discuss practices which have restructured the visual arts through digital media, and  how practitioners have created terms of reference for the vernacular,  and for marginalized practices and histories.  A case in point is the collaboration  between Rajasthani miniature painter R.Vijay and Bengaluru-based expatriate American photographer Waswo X. Waswo who has exhibited in Mumbai’s Sakshi and Tarq galleries. The duo “plays” with identity issues and it’s  interesting how Waswo tends to insert himself into (some of) his works.  There was huge applause for  Yadav’s riveting Indian Memory Project, an online visual and narrative based archive that traces a personal history of the Indian sub-continent through images sourced from family and personal archives.

Cinematographer and director Sabeena Gadihoke moderated the panel comprising  researcher/curator Diwas Raja, architect and author Kaiwan Mehta, and journalist Abhay Sardesai who discussed elided, fading forms of representation. In the session titled Art and the Everyday moderated by photographer and curator Ram Rahman,  artist/animator Sukanya Ghosh, multidisciplinary artist Hanif Kureshi, and  curator/writer Girish Shahane traced personal narratives and the documentation of daily life  or ‘little’ histories.   Shahane focused on  artists like Manish Pai and radiologist/ artist Sudhir Patwardhan who has depicted Mumbai’s (defunct)  mill area and millworkers with a  poignant  realism.

Kureshi was one of  30 artists who participated in the Sassoon Docks Art Project last year with an impressive art-installation which paid tribute to the  Koli community that feeds Mumbaikars. At the MMB, Kureshi showed examples of his work in economically-deprived areas of Mumbai and Hyderabad.  Street art has beautified New York City subways, war-torn Libya, the facades of abandoned buildings in Hamburg and Rome, among other places, making art visible  to the common man who  might not otherwise frequent art galleries. Structures like the Berlin Wall (which was demolished on November 9, 1989) became platforms  of protest. The British street  artist Banksy who was referenced at the symposium has painted several images on the Palestinian side of  Israel's concrete wall separating the Jewish state from the West Bank. Banksy has described   the Wall as "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers” much to the chagrin of Palestinians who deplore “occupation tourism.”

The  final session saw  Goa-based academic and art historian  Savia Viegas moderating a panel comprising JNU professor Naman Ahuja, Kochi –Muziris Biennale founder Riyas Komu, and Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini who showed a video of Afghan cameramen (and other Afghans) being blown up by a suicide bomber. A  photojournalist for Agence France-Presse and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, Hossaini was shooting with his camera when Hell broke loose. He was fortunate, though some of his colleagues weren’t.  Ten journalists died that awful day (April 30 ,2018) along-with 21 other people.  ”Everyone was crying, even the trees were crying. I didn’t know what to do. There were no answers.” 

Clearly then, regional and community imperatives need attention. For Prof Viegas, “the real danger” is  that a larger historical landscape and photography in British India may also be used to define the unique Goan experience under Portuguese Rule.  Photographs taken between 1880 and 1961 (when Goa was liberated) open up “a rich historical matrix of contexts: The Catholic comprador class  and its exuberant response to photography is in contrast to the insularity of Hindu referents.”

Prof Viegas recalled a remark made in 2011 by Tarun Tejpal during the inaugural edition of the ThinkFest, the investigative weekly's conference in Goa, 'Now you are in Goa, drink as much as you want, eat...sleep with whoever you think of, but get ready to arrive early at the event as we have a packed house."

Tejpal’s remark is revelatory:  Goa is incorporated into the Indian imagination as India’s very own piece of locally available Europe in holiday mode offering sun, sand, sex and surf. No doubt, the early development of a tourism culture drew heavily on textual and visual iconographies of the late cartoonist Mario Miranda and the journalist/writer Mario Cabral e Sa through his quasi-touristic jingles.

“The divergent perspectives of Goans and Indian elites, and the dismissal of Goan response is also manifested in the way in which ‘mainstream’ India regards Goans. The licentiousness of Goan women, and ‘emasculation of its males as spineless drunks’ has been panned out by the celluloid media time and again especially, in Hindi feature films. The national elite is largely North Indian, male and upper caste Hindus who ensure what matters in the Republic and what doesn’t.  Perspectives from the margins do not fit the national.”

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