WALKING TOWARDS GATE NO. 86
‘India Global‘ Curatorial essay by Rajeev Sethi Long before the age of globalisation and the internet, India was an axial point for international trade through which the East-West commerce in aromatics, spices, textiles, and other luxuries passed. This position allowed for not just the creation of wealthy economies and trade networks but also for active exchanges of ideologies, artistic traditions, traditional knowledge systems and practices. ‘India Global’ represents an India on the make, where new forms, materials, ideas and ways of being coalesce, the old and new coexisting side by side, sparring with one another and more often than not, erupting into fantastic hybrids, at once global and local. In this section, this flux is represented as it was manifested in a city like Mumbai in the last century. In the early 20th century, townhouses built by the princely elite and the affluent middle class fused Indian and western decorative conventions within a European design scheme, creating an Indian response to the then prevalent taste for Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Doors with symmetric geometric patterns, metal railings and grills, and columns sprouting decorative floral capitals were adopted into the Indian artisan’s vocabulary and matched with local elements making for unlikely companions. Other reinventions were borne of that quintessentially Indian penchant - ‘jugaad’ or making do with less. Craftspeople throughout India create innovative low-cost solutions, meeting their needs with recycled materials, embodying an India that is resilient, innovative, and driven. Attesting to this culture of improvisation and imagination, eclectic fragments of architectural elements and carved woodwork are here recomposed as doors and windows, their varied textures and painted surfaces creating modernist collages. The Chandigarh-based artist Nekchand creates figurines built in cement and sand, embellished with mosaics in discarded and found objects such as broken glass, bangles, and crockery. Akshay Rajpurkar crafts the ‘Recycled City’, an immense mural that depicts Mumbai in aerial view, its buildings, roadways, water courses, parks and industries articulated in elements recycled from computers and factory-reject buttons. Here too are the patch-worked quilts made by the womenfolk of the Siddi tribe, an ethnic group of African origin who now live in India and Pakistan. Creations of warmth and beauty resolutely crafted from scraps of waste fabric, these textiles are presented as a metaphor for the plurastic and migratory nature of the city. Smriti Dixit’s installation was inspired by the spider-web, underscoring the network of interdepencies that comprise the living city. The title ‘Trapped’ however, opens up macabre connotations – the silken threads and the jewel-like web are merely a means of ensnaring unwitting prey, much like the enticing media campaigns that bombard the consumer. Cities are enormous stages with a vast human drama constantly unfolding. ‘India Global’ is conceptualised as a window that opens for the visitor access to the humanscape within the urbanscape. Charmi Shah creates an installation that speaks of the changing fabric of the city. Inspired by the old wadis or mansions of Ghatkopar in Mumbai that are being torn down to make way for high rises, the installation features miniature models of rundown houses at varying stages of dilapidation, until there is nothing but a faint reminiscence of them left. Vibha Galhotra’s ‘Deconstruction/ Construction‘ also comments on the prolific building industry but devoid of nostalgia representing both collapsing and rising buildings, capturing the transformations brought about by the imperative of shrinking resources and endless greed, reminding the viewer that what is seemingly permanent may in the flash of second become remarkably ephemeral. Used vehicle parts sourced from Gulbarga and Bijapur were welded into freestanding trellis-like panels at the Yaadgiri bus-building yard. Affixed at the airport as freestanding trellises, they cast shadows that form a pattern language of mechanics and industry. Gunny bags, carriers of the tonnes of concrete that throw up building after building, protrue suggestively from the wall, symbolising the masculine energy of the burgeoning city. Responding to the new materials that have redefined the very notion of architecture in Indian cities, Nataraj Sharma created an immense grid-work that represents the city in construction. Above is another installation titled the ‘Airshow’ where small metal airplanes form spiral flight patterns within a dense structure. Gigi Scaria’s work depicts abstracted elevations of buildings with balconies and the life within. Below are a series of eight doors, each doubling as a video screen that casts videos of the city of Bombay. Indrapramit Roy’s paintings offer a bird’s eye view of the curving expanse of Mumbai’s seashore set in perspective against an apartment building. Each window of the apartment frames an intimate scene of daily life, transforming the viewer into an accidental voyeur. Poignantly, a number of the female artists who were commissioned for the project chose to dwell on the feminine aspect of the city, revealing the spaces within the built form. Sharmila Sawant creates a curtain constructed with the crowns of discarded bottles of sodas, aerated drinks, and beer. The curtain forms a hollow circular pillar with an opening, allowing the viewer to walk into the pillar’s cavity. Vishaka Apte’s paintings provide intimate views of private spaces in which a series of objects are allotted the role of the protagonist. Sheetal Gattani’s work forms a counterpoint, that of the Other, standing sufficiently apart to be able to perceive that which is unfolding and giving it another representation, in this case as abstracted fields of textured paper, perforated to allow tiny points of light to shine through. Parvati Nair recreates the map of Mumbai as a bowl of abundance, casting the city as a verdant space where seeds find nourishment to sprout and nothing is washed down the drain.