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That Chinese connection

Jerry Pinto on Sheena Sippy’s upcoming photo-exhibit.

art and culture Updated: Feb 25, 2009 16:45 IST
Jerry Pinto

It’s difficult to say exactly what Sheena Sippy is up to in Ciné Indo Chine.

First, there's the name: playfully suggesting Vietnam and thereabouts, hinting at the cinematic experience of playing still photographer on From Chandni Chowk to China, and not even mentioning photography. But don't go if you're thinking you'll get to star gaze. Mr Kumar turns up only in a glass darkly, reflected in a car window, while the foreground is dominated by a young Chinese woman.

Next, there's the works themselves. It should be easy to describe them since they are basically photographs. But since they have been worked into diptychs and in some case triptychs, they begin to acquire some of the sense of collage: the mounts have also been treated with thick bands of colour that pick up what Sippy sees as the dominant colour of the photographs.

New outlook
What happens thereafter is the beginning of a way of looking. You can no longer see one without the other. (You can no longer have one without the other, either. Each image will exist in editions of six each.)

Thus the choice of setting down one photograph against another was crucial to the enterprise, determined, says the artist/photographer/collageur/whatever, by “what I could see reflected as visual reflections. In the diptych of the man and the car, I saw the shape of the man’s hat reflected in the shape of the carburettor. Then there was the way the colours matched. And even the time period fit.”

The Chinese gent is posed. “The only posed picture in the lot,” says Sippy. There are loads of lovely ladies from Shanghai, all sitting around, waiting for a shoot. They represent a state between camera-readiness and the operations of a candid camera.

They have all been prepared for the camera; they have all been made up; they have all been chosen from among those who would look good in a song sequence; and yet in the time before the cinematographer brings them to life, they have the air of women in waiting, as if they have left some vital element out of their being.

Once the lights have been turned on, the camera is ready and someone shouts “Action” or whatever it is they now shout, they will come to life again.

The other recurrent trope is Chinese lettering. "I like my pictures to have some writing in them. On one level, words are simply another element. But they also have meanings and so the words may add another dimension to the picture. But Chinese calligraphy is almost effortlessly beautiful and I enjoyed using it as well."

Colour play
Sippy obviously enjoys colour. These images revel in them and more often than not, it is the sheer exuberance of the colour that draws you into their seductive and often deceptively slick finishes.

"I want something to draw the viewer in, whether it’s the graphics or the colour or the content does not matter. In some ways, I want to give the viewer more than she wants when she's finished looking at one of these works."