What do auteur, Satyajit Ray and a group of protesting Bengalis have in common with the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, who play out their barnyard politics swadeshi style? Or for that matter how is a demon inspired by the Persian Shahnameh in apparent conversation with nihilistic children, inspired by the good habits poster? Before you begin to trip out on these visually stimulating works, let it be revealed that the exhibition, tauntingly titled, ‘Babur ki Gai’, is all about the making of myths in contemporary times. Curated by Bhavna Kakar and conceptualised by Adwait Singh, it is hosted at Gallery Latitude 28 in collaboration with Art District XIII. The group show examines the oxymoron of ‘contemporary history’ through the phenomenon of mythopoesis, or put in simple English, the making of myths in the here and now.
The image of Ray and the quarrelsome Bengalis is from a series of pop up books highlighting the myths from Modern Bengal by Amritah Sen, while the Animal Farm is by Baroda-based Ketaki Sarpotdar; the ‘Rumi demon’ has been rendered on a rug by Afghani artist Khadim Ali, a refugee currently living between Australia and Pakistan, critiquing the Taliban through his series of works, while Priyesh Trivedi’s children inspired by the Adarsh Balak series, it may be noted, are symbolic of urban dystopia. Instead of being paragons of virtue as they are usually shown, they are painted lounging on the terrace and smoking and drinking. In another image they go as far as to poison the city water supply!
“The title, ‘Babur ki Gai’ refers to a key work in the show by the artist Priyanka D’Souza, who claims to have recovered the lost pages from the Baburnama folio,” says Bhavna Kakar, Director and Founder of Gallery Latitude 28. She goes on to point out that the authenticity of these pages as well as their recent citation by a politician in support of the agenda to ban cow slaughter is however contested, as the researchers suggest that the mention of cow slaughter happens not in the Baburnama but in his ‘Wasaya’ or will, which has been proven to be a 17th century forgery.
As such, the title ‘Babur ki Gai’ encapsulates the casual volleying of certain shared beliefs and myths as if they were actual facts of history in order to achieve political ends, and the general discrediting of the truth in a world that increasingly traffics in brutality and fake news. “Babur ki Gai’ also hints at the mythopoetic function whereby the artists are able to contest certain political ideologies or dominant social norms with unconventional belief systems and alternative visions of the world,” says Kakar.
The show features a total of 19 artists who have taken a very interesting approach to interpret the idea of contemporary myth, a contradiction in and of itself. We have Anupama Alias with a contemporary interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, taking on Christian and Hebrew iconography to voice her feminist concerns and
B Manjunath Kamath whose broken statues or hollowed-out sculptures pay a sort of homage to Vaishnavite myths and iconography. Elan Cheziyan employs folklore, myths and storytelling to allegorise contemporary social and political concerns; Shilo Shiv Suleman, the founder of ‘The Fearless Collective’, has created a site-specific work that celebrates female sexuality in the process of reimagining the missing Sanskrit manuscript Chandrakalas composed by a mysterious sage in the 4th century BCE.
Kedar Dhondu ‘rewrites’ the ‘histories’ of certain local shrines that have mysteriously survived the interregnal violence characterising cultural or political transitions in the Goan hinterland. Waswo X Waswo’s hand-painted photographs playfully appropriate colonial archetypes such as the ‘evil orientalist’, turning them inside out.
Alongside these, the exhibition includes works by acclaimed international artists such as the US-based Taiwanese artist Fay Ku and the Pakistani miniaturist Waseem Ahmed. It also marks the first Indian exhibition for the Iranian artist Zahra Yazdani Nia whose series of fictional landscapes are derived from her immediate socio-political surroundings.
To quote Kapil Chopra, Mentor of Art District XIII, “The show is a welcome antidote to the nauseating righteousness and condescension that often exists in harping tales of religious leaders, political legends and clichéd historians.”
The show will be on till the 20th of November.
Images used with permission.