This is not just any exhibition of photographs — it’s Samar S Jodha’s recreation of an experience with light, sound and pictures, still ones and a video loop, almost like an installation. As you walk into the gallery space, you enter darkness, pure unrelieved black nothingness. As your eyes grow accustomed, two things sink in — a sound-track playing the cricket’s tee-tee-tee music, like in a forest, and on the far end of the wall facing the door, a black-and-white photograph of an old woman with seemingly tribal features caught in a spotlight.
As you walk involuntarily, step by step, towards it, the image seems to grow larger and larger, until every craggy line and every pore on the face seem to leap out of the large 6’x 5’ portrait, even as other portraits — an old man and a child — appear, almost as if by magic on the edge of your vision. It’s undoubtedly a dramatic display.
Talk to Jodha and you realise that drama is integral to the show. “The intent is to bring the viewer closer to the people that have rarely been seen outside their immediate surroundings,” he says. Jodha is referring to the Tai Phake, a remote Buddhist tribe only 1,500 strong which lives in a small hamlet between the cloistered Patkai rainforest and the Tirap river near Ledo in upper Assam.
Jodha and his wife were exploring the Stilwell Road, from Kunming in China to Ledo in Assam, on wheels when they discovered the tribe. This was sometime in 2004, and over the past three years the couple has worked closely with the tribe to make their lives somewhat better.
They’ve helped with the education of the children, rebuilt a Buddhist monastery, set up a website on the tribe and, most important, started a rural tourism initiative to supplement their income. And now this project is more of an advocacy than art, says the photographer, quite like his earlier project involving the aged. So at the high-profile inauguration of the event by Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jodha did not just fly down some of the Phaneng tribes people, but also served two dishes from the Tai Phake cuisine. Wonder how that went down with the art society crowd?
On at Arts I, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place, till December 10.