In the beginning there was magic. Sunil Mehra had a vision three years ago while rereading the works of Gabriel García Márquez. The 54-year-old writer-producer proposed a festival of ‘magic realism’ — comprising fine arts, film, theatre and literature — to Renu Modi, owner of Gallery Espace.
The 52-year-old gallerist, who prides herself on her skill of “spotting a good idea and running with it”, got enthused. It could be a gala marking 20 years of her gallery, she thought.
Mehra started commissioning dozens of artists. He sent them books and films that he thought fell within the contested bracket of ‘magic realism’, a term first used in 1925 by German art critic Franz Roh to describe dreamy paintings by artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz. Mehra says, “I gave the artists a diving board and asked them to jump…. And I told them not to fake their orgasms.” He roped in Aruna Vasudev, founder of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, to curate the films.
Three months back, some of the magic faded as the reality of costs and logistics sunk in. Modi said she couldn’t stage everything at one go; the arts show itself had cost her “at least Rs 60 lakh”. Mehra took the films and theatre under his banner, Abhyas Trust; the literature festival slunk out of the menu. And the embassies of Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Italy, France and Britain came forward to help.
‘Marvelous Reality’, the baby born last Wednesday of this chaotic gestation, is a 10-day, multi-centre festival showcasing 150-odd artworks by 36 artists, 11 features and one short film, and a stage production by Neelam Mansingh titled ‘The Suit’.
How did the artists take to the concept of ‘magic realism’? To painter G.R. Iranna, one of whose large canvases features a lazy leopard slung over a cloud, there wasn’t much of a distance from Surrealism, a style in which dreams could be as important as blinking life.
But it was distinct to Sheba Chhachhi, whose backlit twin-installation evokes the magic lantern. “Magic realism is the exaggeration of the everyday,” says the 50-year-old artist. “It’s something we’re culturally comfortable with, unlike post-industrial Europe, which has lost some of the magic.”
For sure, this festival conjures up that magic in a grand manner.