Head to exhibitions that explore themes of nostalgia, harmony
The sea becomes the protagonist in Meera Devidayal’s mixed media exhibition, Water Has Memory. You can hear the waves lash furiously against the tetrapods in a 7.30-minute film, with the same title, that showcases Mumbai’s seascape.
In a painting titled Chipping Away The Ocean, the sea is being gouged out by construction workers perched on a scaffolding to carve out more land.
Wall-to-wall photographs show a hive of office buildings in Nariman Point. These worn-out facades are accentuated by grubby air-conditioner ducts and blinds down to shut out any signs of the natural world. Yet, the sea sneaks up on the buildings, with fishing boats bobbing on its ripples reflected on the windowpanes.
It’s these reflections that triggered the exhibition, says Devidayal. She spotted them in 2015, while looking out at the buildings from her husband’s office in the area. “The sea was in a corner and not visible directly from any office. Yet, it managed to assert its presence, and the panes turned into a canvas.”
The mixed media exhibition – two video projections, photographs, paintings, frames holding hologram films and text by American poets HW Longfellow and Langston Hughes – narrates the way Mumbai has encroached upon the sea and how it’s fighting back. “The Arabian Sea is the only thing that makes Mumbai livable, but it is being abused in our quest for acquisition. Here, the sea is also a metaphor for the planet, which is now striking back in the form of hurricanes, tsunamis and floods.”
The Mumbai-based artist is known for depicting the city as a dream world and exploring the threshold of appearance and reality – whether it’s reimagining the spaces that housed the defunct textile mills in A Terrible Beauty (2014) or showing how hapless migrants are drawn into the metropolis’ web of seemingly endless opportunities in Where I Live (2009).
Here, Devidayal turns the spotlight on the sense of entrapment that Mumbaikars face while running the rat race. In a mixed media work, titled On The Edge, a man stands on the fringe of a parapet overlooking the office buildings. You wonder if he’ll jump off into the concrete sea or step back and walk away.
The artist also depicts the sea’s calmer side in a section called The Serene Brutality of the Ocean, featuring charcoal paintings. Here, the waves become a safe passage for travellers looking for greener pastures.
Yet, what stays with you is a moment from the film, Mirage, where high-rises framing the skyline morph into stone-cold ice sculptures with the droning sound of ice-cutting machines that Devidayal found at Sassoon Docks as the background score. “The buildings will ultimately melt away,” she says.
War And Pieces
In 1995, when the United Nations completed 50 years, they invited 60 artists to create art works for an exhibition titled Dialogues of Peace. Rekha Rodwittiya was one of them.
As an art student, she had looked at and studied many important works triggered by specific factors of impact. This included Picasso’s famous work, Guernica. She also visited a former concentration camp in Germany, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Each marker of an atrocity had got people to converge with a promise to never have large-scale violence occur again. “Yet, we see them perpetuated over and over,” says Rodwittiya.
In her new work, Songs from the Blood of the Weary, 12 large paintings come together as one work when displayed together. It reflects on the idea of how every generation spends a lifetime in hope to find this notion of peace, and continues to sacrifice so much for it.
Women, she says, pay a higher price. “The kind of sacrifices women make, in a patriarchal society across borders through classes and religions, often goes unnoticed,” she says. The exhibition comes at a time when the country itself is protesting brutal rapes, just as we did in 2012 after a woman succumbed to the effects of horrific sexual violence in a bus in Delhi. Little seems to have changed in the ensuing years.
“We are standing on so many landmines, we believed we had already diffused and done away with. We believed that we had already addressed them and moved forward. But we haven’t.”