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Object lessons: Funny, quirky, clever reactions to Mumbai’s biggest exhibitions

Was the Harappan Dancing Girl actually a warrior? Why do farmers love Jitish Kallat’s art? Notes from a busy culture season.

mumbai Updated: Mar 30, 2018 21:11 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times
CSMVS,Bhau Daji Lad,Elephant Parade
Bilwa Kulkarni led several people through the India and the World show at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum and says kids had the most interesting questions. They wondered how Greek statues reached India without airplanes, and asked whether Stone Age tools were used ‘to kill people’. (Image courtesy CSMVS)

How do Mumbaikars react when they spot a 30-metre plastic water hose in an art gallery? Can they identify paper pulp artwork from clay one? What do Marathwada locals see when they come face to face with Jitish Kallat’s skeletal sculpture Aquasaurus?

Mumbai’s almost towards the end of a busy culture season. We’ve had monumental exhibitions such as India And The World and Asymmetrical Objects. There was the five-day art fiesta that was Mumbai Gallery Weekend, a gigantic street art festival inside Sassoon Docks, and the public art showcase, Elephant Parade India. And there have been innumerable exciting shows at Mumbai’s galleries.

As curators and guides finally unwind, take a look at how the city reacted to works in the shows: the unexpected comments, curious questions and sometimes hilarious observations.

‘Look at those killer tools’

Beady-eyed 10 and 12-year-old kids turned out to be the most curious viewers at India And The World: A History in Nine Stories at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). The four-month long exhibition showcased over 200 objects that traced the history of civilisation.

“The one question I would always get from kids was: were the stone tools used to kill people?” says Leanne Thothiyil, 20, who conducted 120 walkthroughs.

Other favourites were artefacts from the Harappan civilisation, “since it is part of history textbooks” and the bronze figure of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, which was excavated in Maharashtra. “They just couldn’t fathom how an object from Greece could come to Maharashtra especially when there were no planes!”

The exhibition also changed people’s perspective about the Dancing Girl from Mohen jo Daro. “They were surprised to learn she wouldn’t necessarily have been a dancer. One kid observed that she could be a warrior because of her confident stance.”

‘Is that really art?’

Artist Shreyas Karle’s show , Unnecessary Alcove, presented domestic objects as art, prompting many viewers to ask questions about what makes an object worthy of display. Karle says the reactions helped him re-examine his work. (Image courtesy Anil Rane and Project88, Mumbai)

An aluminium vessel, a plastic water-hose, iron rods and wooden boxes – these everyday objects turned up at Colaba’s Project 88 for artist Shreyas Karle’s solo show, Unnecessary Alcove, which wrapped up earlier this month.

“Many people were baffled by the show,” says Natasha Jeyasingh, co-founder of Carpe Arte, a platform that fosters engagement with the art community, who led guests at the gallery during the Mumbai Gallery Weekend last month. “Some viewers were curious to know if such objects actually resulted in sale.”

In the exhibition, Karle explored the idea of archiving domestic objects as if they were in a museum. “During the walkthroughs, I did get questions on why these objects were placed here, especially those that weren’t self-explanatory,” says the artist. For instance, Pelvic Shift that featured a long stick of French polished teakwood.

He preferred to let the audience interpret the works. “Some viewers pointed out that all the individual objects looked like they were part of a single installation and that no work was superior to the other,” he says. “That was a learning process for me and helped me rediscover my own work.”

‘What is it made of?’

German artist Ingrid Pitzer’s Leaves of Morya’s Garden was part of Tao Art Gallery’s 18th anniversary celebrations and some viewers correctly identified that the work was made from paper. (Image courtesy Tao Art Gallery)

“Mumbai’s audience is keen to understand the art-making process,” discovered art curator and consultant Satyajit Dave when he conducted a walkthrough for Tao Art Gallery’s 18th anniversary exhibition, titled No Corners.

The show had works of 50 artists from across India. The one that drew most curiosity was German artist Ingrid Pitzer’s Leaves of Morya’s Garden – an earthy-hued sculpture with crumpled texture that was framed on a wall. “From a distance, they looked like they’re made of thick clay or metal.” However, before Dave had a chance to spell out its real material during the walkthrough last week, a gentleman in the group, ranging from 12-year-olds to 35, sprung up, ‘Oh, it’s made with paper!’ Later, Dave explained that it was, indeed, made of cast paper, a sculpting technique that uses the pulp of handmade paper.

“A skeleton in a museum!”

Jitish Kallat’s Aquasaurus was part of a group show at the Bhau Daji Lad museum. A group of farmers from drought-affected rural Maharashtra particularly connected with the work. (Hemanshi Kamani / HT Photo)

Among the crowds that visited Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum’s recent show, Asymmetrical Objects, was a group of visitors from Marathwada, a region in Maharashtra that has witnessed farmer suicides and water crisis.

“They connected with the exhibition much more than anyone else,” believes co-curator Himanshu Kadam, who led the walkthrough in Marathi.

The show, which celebrated the museum’s 10th anniversary since reopening and 160 years since it first opened to the public in 1857, featured works by artists like Atul Bhalla, Jitish Kallat, Ranbir Kaleka and Sahej Rahal, focused on man’s engagement with the environment.

Kallat’s Aquasaurus, a seven-metre long sculpture of a water-tanker and the skeleton of a prehistoric creature represents the radical transformation of Indian city life. “Sahej Rahal’s sculpture, The Walker [a creature made using salvaged objects] became a symbol of animal deaths due to water scarcity. They said that the exhibition depicts the reality that people in rural areas face,” says Kadam.

Corridors in a conversation

When 101 elephant sculptures painted on by leading artists and designers were put on display , Ruth Ganesh, one of the organisers, heard even children start to use the term ‘elephant corridors’. (Kunal Patil / HT Photo)

While they became selfie props, the 101 baby elephant sculptures displayed at various spots in Mumbai as part of the Elephant Parade India, also brought the term ‘corridors’ into mainstream. The sculptures were being auctioned to build corridors – safe passages for elephants to move in their natural habitat – across India.

Ruth Ganesh, trustee of Elephant Family, which hosted this edition, encountered a child at Bandra Fort, where some works were installed. “The child pointed to a placard on the elephant sculpture and told his mother, ‘The elephant is helping to make a corridor in Orissa’. It was fascinating to see corridors become part of mainstream vocabulary,” she said at the closing ceremony of the parade.

First Published: Mar 30, 2018 21:11 IST