A photographic opera of Mewar’s tribal dance tradition

An exhibition in the Delhi NCR showcases images of Gauri dancers of Mewar, Rajasthan, taken in the last decade, that are a window into the life and unique performing art tradition of the community.
Hand-coloured photographs of Mewar’s Gauri dancers community are on exhibition in Gurugram.
Hand-coloured photographs of Mewar’s Gauri dancers community are on exhibition in Gurugram.
Published on Oct 09, 2021 01:05 PM IST
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By Siddhi Jain

New Delhi Almost a decade ago, an American artist-photographer shifted his studio to Varda near Udaipur. What struck him, while capturing rural communities there, was the presence of a native Mewari performing art named Gauri or Gavri. Cut to the present day, Waswo X Waswo has been photographing Gauri dancers, who are all men portraying female characters, for many years. And it’s their portraits and group pictures that are being showcased as part of a series of painted photographs, titled Gauri Dancers: The Opera of Mewar.

Recalling his first encounter with a Gauri dancer, Waswo says, “He had bangles, a cowboy hat and glitter on his face. Next year, I photographed a shop selling papier mâché masks used by Gauri dancers.” Waswo admits it looked odd to him at first. But, he continued to photograph the dancers as they travelled from village to village, performing local Mewari legends and religious retellings from epics. Their photos are hand coloured by Rajesh Soni, a third-generation Rajasthani photo hand colourist.

Interestingly, eight farmers from a village in Rajasthan have set up a traditional Gauri elephant in the gallery! “It is made of charpoys, baskets and bangles, and is on display as a part of the show,” informs Bhavna Kakar, gallerist, adding, “The Gauri Dancers are unique to the confluence of southern Rajasthan and its borders with Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. This predominantly tribal belt has a glorious tradition of oral literature and performing arts, by way of dance and drama.”

A key attraction about Gauri dance, Waswo says, is that a lot of cross dressing is involved. “There’s also humour. While watching them perform, you can suddenly hear a joke on a politician!” he shares.

Catch It Live

What: Gauri Dancers: The Opera of Mewar

Where: Museo Camera Centre for Photographic Arts, Sector 28, Gurugram

On till: October 15 (Monday closed)

Timing: 11am to 7pm

Nearest Metro Station: IFFCO Chowk on Yellow Line

Author tweets @siddhijainn

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021