Free of the frame: Which quirky Mumbai art show will you go to?

Two exhibitions this weekend encourage you to look back, look closely and look again, as photography and abstract works go on display.

mumbai Updated: Apr 07, 2018 15:39 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Riddhi Doshi
Hindustan Times
Art exhibition,Art show,Soumya Sankar Bose
Jatra artistes Rabin Kumar Majhi and Anukul Ghosh pose as a newly married couple in one of the photographs that Soumya Sankar Bose will have on display at his exhibition.

For art, April is usually the cruellest month. Most galleries have already wrapped up their major shows. Gallerists and artists are busy with spring and summer seasons abroad. Prospective buyers escape to cooler destinations, and no one stuck behind feels like gallery hopping in the heat anyway. So it’s a good sign that the city has three interesting shows this time of the year. See one photographer’s intimate look at the last practitioners of a 400-year-old theatre form. In another show, an art revivalist is putting a contemporary spin on an art that is no longer relegated to the background. And another artist is using zinc and abstract works to tell tales big and small about the idea of being feminine. All shows are free, making it a weekend well spent.

Scenes in flashback

Let’s Sing an Old Song
  • WHERE: Project 88, Ground Floor, Narayan A Sawant Rd, Azad Nagar, Colaba, and Studio Tamaasha, Aram Nagar, Versova, Andheri West
  • WHEN: April 7, 7 pm at Project 88; April 8, 6.30 pm at Studio Tamaasha
  • Entry is free

If you’re familiar with FOMO – the fear of missing out – think of chronophobia as the opposite. It’s defined as an irrational fear of the passing of time. Photographer Soumya Sankar Bose’s work brings the term to life with Let’s Sing an Old Song. Thirty-five images and a presentation document the lives of once-popular performing artists of jatra, a travelling theatre tradition from undivided Bengal.

The form emerged in the 16th Century to promote Vaishnavism in the times of the Mughal rule and remained popular for centuries. People from far-flung villages would travel for days to see them. But the advent of the radio, followed by television and the internet pushed the art form and the artists into oblivion.

Swapan Modal, a retired jatra artiste, at his studio in Durgapur.

There have been several chroniclers of the dying form. Bose, a grand-nephew of a popular jatra artiste focussed his lens on the performers who now live in penury or have taken up odd jobs to earn a living. “My project is about people,” he says. “I was interested in capturing the psyche of once-famous artistes who now are lonely and struggling, and understand how society perceives them and how they perceive society.”

Bose spent days with each artist, listening to their stories and trying to understand which jatra characters are closest to their hearts. Elaborate costumes would be then designed, followed by a photoshoot in the artists’ homes, workplaces or interesting locations in the neighbourhood.

One image features Rabin Kumar Majhi (51) and Anukul Ghosh (63), posing as a newly married couple, the characters they played for the theatre, in the background of Ghosh’s boat. He now ferries people from one shore to another for Rs 1.

Bose, who has never seen a jatra performance, says it the project was precious to the artists. “Except for a few, most of them wanted to share these stories with me, someone of their grandson’s age, who wanted to know more about their days,” says Bose. The participants perhaps knew that this was the last time they were sharing their memories of jatra.

Soon after Bose’s project, funded by Indian Foundation for the Arts ended, a few of Bose’s models, including his grand uncle, bid the world goodbye.

Question your body

Seema Kohli’s art is an exploration of feminity and spirituality, with the women and winged horses representing the breaking of boundaries.
What A Body Remembers
  • WHERE: Tao Art Gallery, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli
  • WHEN: Until May 4, 11 am to 7 pm. Open on all days
  • CALL: 2491-8585
  • Entry is free

Artist Seema Kohli’s exquisite detailed works in What the Body Remembers represent archetypes of the feminine, spirituality, her own experiences and that space in the mind where an art work is created. The depictions of the feminine include a woman, a cow and even a horse. “For me feminine is not about the physicality, but about the concept,” says Kohli. The universe, she believes, is feminine too.

The ideas are represented through both the super natural and the everyday. On one level, the paintings of women and winged horses speak of the thoughts and chatter of women together, wanting to break boundaries and attain different heights of freedom. At the same time, they also explore the mind’s deepseated experiences and memories. “I believe that we take off, create from and begin to be who we are from that point of our experience,” says Kohli.

Along with her 35 paintings, on display are also her 35 zinc etchings, which were earlier shown at the Kochi-Muziris and Venice biennales. The series, called Memoirs, narrates the instances when the body questions itself. An etching of boots is inspired by Nancy Sinatra’s hit song These Boots Are made For Walkin’. It’s a series that questions what we form even as you wonder what forms you.

First Published: Apr 06, 2018 21:27 IST