Shifting Focus: Photography Residency

2 Mar

Shifting Focus: Photography Residency


 KHOJ Studios, New Delhi


 Friday, 1 October 2010 – Saturday, 30 October 2010


 Ajay TalwarEdson DiasMadhavan P and Mansi Bhatt


 Georgina Maddox

Moving ahead from the age-old debates of whether photography can be termed as ‘art’ at all and the photographer, an ‘artist’, photography has found its rightful place into the dominant perception of today’s contemporary art scenario. In an era of fast paced ‘digital’ innovation with an ever increasing focus on technologically advanced equipment and high-end sophisticated gadgets, Shifting Focus aspired to to extend its space to re-instill the intuition in making photographs.

Envisioning its role as an experimental space to foster alternative ideas, artistic exchange and dialogue, the residency aims to assist and facilitate a deviant discourse on photography, from the ‘mainstream’ to that of the ‘alternative’.

In pursuit of alternative photographic processes, Shifting Focus sought to investigate the vast potential of image-forming possibilities while demonstrating varied and often, untried means of making images. It promoted freedom to shift focus from using conventional methods and their intended purposes to that of discovery and exploration through practice of imagination and skill and thereby pushing the boundaries of photography.

Mr. Rahaab Allana, Curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi, was the ‘mentor’ for the artists-in-residence.

During this residency, Goa-Centre for Alternative Photography (Goa-CAP), visual artists P Madhavan and Edson Dias did ‘seek to use the pinhole camera as performance, installation, image making, and research to achieve conversation between object, space, movement, and time.’ Mansi Bhatt undertook an explorative journey into the unknown and faced the challenges therein. Equipped with her camera, she hoped ‘to confront the dark and the fear of the unknown, being able to break it apart, survive through and endure while being responsive to the surroundings and people around and with minimum manipulation’. Astro-photographer, Ajay Talwar aspired to undertake work that would essentially be a bridge between science and art.

Thus by bringing forth photographers and artists with diverse backgrounds and art practice as artists-in-residence during the month long duration, the residency attempted to create a bond of shared experiences through exciting exchange of ideas and technical skill, and endeavors to cultivate a broader, more inclusive perception of photography in the realm of art.

Shifting Focus strived to bring into focus that which escapes and eludes the ultimate ‘camera obscura’ – the human eye, as though opening a parallel universe to us; and restore the powerful and awe inspiring mystery of life!


Going on Record

12 Jan

A new show explores the creative process behind making art

By Georgina Maddox on January 03 2014 7.41am Image

Artists are usually fiercely protective of their studio space and are deeply private about their creative process. So even if you watch slightly shaky footage of them at work, you know that you have got a peek at something exclusive.

Walk into the compact, white-walled Exhibit 320 at Lado Sarai this fortnight to not only view art but also the creative process behind it. At Artchiving all artworks are accompanied with LCD screens displaying the documentation of each artist’s work. The show is curated by Ranjita Chaney Menezes and features Gigi Scaria, Nandan Ghiya, Sonia Mehra Chawla, Sumakshi Singh and Sunoj D.

We got a glimpse of the bearded and bespectacled Sunoj D pottering around his studio, sifting sand, crushing glass, melting molasses and creating his sculptures. The columnar works are prickly with jagged glass on the surface but also attractive, because they are bathed in golden paint dust.

“I try to look at the space between two opposing sides, placing them in the contexts of time and space – the real and the unreal, the living and the dying, one side and the other – to reflect my understanding of the internal conflicts,” said Sunoj.

Sumakshi Singh shared with us her process of creating art in architectural settings. “I create micro-interventions in architectural spaces, accompanied by miniscule scars and amplified flaws, that convert the sterile surfaces of a white cube gallery into saturated membranes that resist efficiency in viewing,” she said. “Decoding and digesting it becomes impossible to decide what the artwork stands for and doesn’t.”

When you walk into the room covered in slivers of green paper-sculptures and a few colourful protrusions, you get a sense of what the artist is talking about. This work is more minimal than her usual installation drawings, which are heavily detailed and leaves much to the imagination.





Another artist whose work stands out in an assemblage of pop and vintage imagery is Nandan Ghiya’s photo installation. His work, presented in wooden boxes with glass fronts, convey a sense of wit and irreverence. For instance, an image of ancient Buddha heads found in archaeological digs are covered in funky stickers with marketing jargon that proclaim: “sale”, “discount”, “limited stock”, and so on. Another image is an old studio portrait of two women sitting on chairs covered with thick poppish text that declares, “I am a work of art”. A portrait of a young man royally dressed is covered in text that declares, “AC/DC is not for me”.

You can’t help suppressing a smile when you go past these works. But the artist’s explanation is serious in contrast to the impression it first creates. “The images used for this work are remnants of my artistic process,” said Ghiya, “sketches, studies, fragments or reference images, which did not translate beyond adorning the soft-boards in my studio. So in effect, the work is perhaps a fragmented representation of my mindscape – an assortment of tangibles and intangibles that have impacted my art practice.”

The other two artists, Gigi Scaria and Sonia Mehra Chawla, share their process of archiving images and both of them present rather painterly images. Scaria’s paintings capture rolls of paper, some with images, and some blank. “An artist’s archive can be an archive of unfinished ideas, untold stories and layers of blank rolls of emptiness,” said Scaria. “It can also be overshadowed by the unknown future and the ever-existing present protected by the clutches of memories.”





Chawla’s “Biomorphic City”, part of the show, captures futuristic landscapes on canvas. It is an ongoing project that provides visionary images of a futuristic, self-sustained mega city, the images toy with the challenges of energy management, nature, architecture, agriculture, urban spaces and the quality of life. The project is funded by the gallery owner Rasika Kajaria and it extends beyond this particular exhibition. “We do not have an archive of contemporary art, even though we now have more records of ancient and traditional art practices,” said Kajaria. “It is important to create archives of contemporary art because many people are resistant to recording the process of younger artists. However, it provides us with material so we can trace their trajectory and document their growth.” If the art doesn’t explain itself, don the headphone and watch how it comes to life.

Artchiving  is ongoing at Exhibit 320.




Donkey’s Tale

13 Dec

Donkey's Tale

Navjot Altaf’s solo, Donkey’s Tale, comprise wooden sculptures of the three legged donkey and a woman.

Donkey’s tale

23 Nov

Navjot Altaf’s recent body of work explores the topical, the mythical and the self, says Georgina Maddox

Typically, a nude woman and a three-legged donkey would be a great premise for a joke. However, artist Navjot Altaf’s work is dead serious. She presents viewers with wooden sculptures of the above mentioned woman and two donkeys, one with three legs and the other with a tiny unicorn horn at the centre of its forehead. Navjot places all three figures in the context of mythology and modern day concerns.

The sculpture of the woman, walking towards the donkeys, indicates her desire to associate with the likeminded. She is painted a resplendent blue and is bereft of garments. Her features are broad and her body posture confident. She is neither coy, nor does she invite a roving voyeuristic eye. “I have theoretical reasons to represent women the way I have been doing since the ’90s,” said Navjot, who’s been engaged with art, feminism and leftist ideals since she got her diploma at the JJ School of Art in 1972. “The thought behind it is to reclaim the woman from the sexist or religious connotations that are often ascribed to her.”

The three-legged donkey, in Sassanian culture, is similar to the European unicorn. It is a symbol of purity and power against evil and is regarded as a champion of the oppressed. These works are part of a larger exhibition, titled Horn in the Head, that consists of wood sculptures and video work.

“I conceived this work when I saw a donkey at a construction site near Mahim estuary, where the Mithi river and the Arabian Sea meet in Mumbai. The donkey had an injured leg and it was being ill-treated by the owner. It reminded me of a mythic animal of Ormond’s (the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism) creation, almost contemporary in feeling,” explained Navjot.

The work further evolved when Navjot decided to place these donkeys and the nude woman, which is a self-portrait, in the context of larger socio-political concerns. “I began to explore the connection between the Caspian Sea and the Mithi river to bring to light the concerns about the state of water. The Mithi is stagnant and polluted, in both myth and reality,” she said. “I had recorded the sound of the Caspian Sea in 1973 because I like the sound of water. Later, I began to video document the state of the Mithi river, when the Bandra Kurla complex was being built on acres of the riverbed. A number of NGOs and environmentalists protested about this appropriation of the riverbed. In my work I know who the three-legged donkeys are and who those noxious creatures are in present times.”

In the lower gallery, viewers can also see two large blue sculptures of women sitting and discussing something. Art fraternity insiders may recognise these women as Navjot and art critic Geeta Kapur . It is, in fact, very empowering to see women in charge; discussing myth, aesthetics and epistemology, as is mentioned in the artist’s statement. Kapur’s point of view is symbolised by the open cube that she sits upon, Navjot’s by the joint in a pipeline that facilitates the movement of water, from one pipe to another. The cube symbolises a constructivist’s view on what history is built upon while the pipeline affirms history is fluid. “Next to this sculpture are pieces of iron that resemble rail tracks; it is a puzzle that allows viewers to create forms related to the hand gestures one of the figures is making,” said Navjot, adding that the piece speaks of multiple points of view that may be arrived at through dialogue. One may argue that the entire exhibition is a puzzle and piecing it together requires an engaged viewer.

Bare essentials

23 Nov
Vivan Sundaram’s latest homage to the feminine form may not be as flattering as his previous ramp show, says Time Out
This is not an exhibition for the faint-hearted. Renowned artist Vivan Sundaram is stripping his mannequins to the bare minimum, exposing bone, ligament and “innards”. It’s unique because in his last exhibition,GAGAWAKA: Making Strange in 2011, he dressed them up in sculptural garments that were made from found objects and trash. In POSTMORTEM, his latest exhibition that opens at Vadehra Art Gallery in the first week of November, he explores the seam-ier side of beauty and fashion.

The work has a slightly sinister layer to it, given that the mannequins are a human proxy. But perhaps the act of dressing and stripping mannequins to their bare bones is intentionally meant to stab the viewer. It is disconcerting, which may be the precise reaction that Sundaram intends to induce. Notably, Sundaram has been quite preoccupied with the “feminine mystique” for the latter half of his career, and most of his photo-graphy montage, most famously, Retake on Amrita, revolves around his late aunt, the famed painter Amrita Sher-Gil, who indulged in a lot of self portraits and was constantly photographed in front of mirrors.

For this work, he has referenced Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” as he splices open inanimate figures; the operation table is a basic ply-board bench that gets converted into a coffin, closet, frame, and supports the work. “The work alludes to a process of examination where the body is cut up,” Sundaram said. “It is in direct opposition to my previous work where sculptural garments were fitted for models, actors and dancers and executed in a ramp show. What I am interested in now is to get back to the support and structure of the body. The inanimate object references mannequins in shop windows that possess their own brand of sexuality. By representing them as sculptures, the objects acquire a cross-over into new life. I have not just used mannequins but three-dimensional medical models usually employed as teaching aids. The intention is to dig deeper.”

Does this work hold continuity with his Retake on Amrita series? “There is an aura, history and representation of Amrita that she constructed herself. I just carried it over into a new avatar. In this instance, I have opened a Pandora’s box of interpretations: there is a range of emotion, deathly tenderness and violence that is foreground in this work.”

Sundaram had been contem-plating POSTMORTEM for a while but was involved in another project. “I have only been working on it since June,” he said. “I had two wonderful assistants, M Pravat and Balagopalan, who helped me. Without their involvement and technical know-how, I would not have been able to do it.” With their help, Sundaram reconfigured six-foot and 12-foot pedestals he used for his ramp shows into cupboards and coffins. Video clips of the ramp show GAGAWAKA are played alongside the sculpture as a reference to his earlier work.

Sundaram termed the work post-surrealist and when we investigate further we realise that this is not just fancy terminology. “Post surrealism uses a lot of juxtaposition and collage works that foregrounds desire, fantasy and eroticisms present in the collage,” he said. “One dislocates reality; there is a leg where a hand should have been or a head bereft of its body. It’s a violent surrealist reference. By cutting up the body I am intentionally bringing in disjuncture.” Shaking us out of our reverie where beauty and desire converge, Sundaram resorts to shock treatment for his viewers in his new work.
By Georgina Maddox on November 08 2013 6.54am


Men’s room

23 Nov

women do this too…I know one!

Matt on Not-WordPress

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Space divas

17 Oct

Space divas

Brooklyn artist Chitra Ganesh brings science fiction and mythology together at her first solo exhibition