Show Time: New Exhibitions By Subodh Gupta And Dayanita Singh
Two shows by major Indian artists from the capital opened in Mumbai this weekend. Subodh Gupta, who is perhaps the best-known contemporary Indian artist abroad, unveiled Anhad/Unstruck at Famous Studios. Photographer Dayanita Singh unpacked her show Suitcase Museum at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
While Dayanita Singh’s Suitcase Museum comes across as a personal invitation to view her life and career in pictures that she has taken over three decades, Subodh Gupta’s Anhad/Unstruck looks outwards. Specifically towards the cosmos. The show is a set of large metallic installations that extend the motif that runs through all his work: the utensil. This time, the utensil embodies a spiritual connotation for Gupta. For instance, ‘Aakaash, Paataal, Dharti (Space, Depth, Surface)’ is a large cube made of crushed aluminium vessels. The gaps between are filled colourful rags. On the day we visited, performers stationed within the sculpture peeked out of the interstices, making it a living work of art as it were. Viewers must walk around the sculpture to see it completely. The idea is that the vessel is central to our existence just as the sun is to orbiting planets.
The utensil also assumes cosmic proportions in three paintings on metal collectively titled ‘In this vessel lies the seven seas; in it too, the nine hundred thousand stars’. The circular bartan streaked with neon lightning (lights are embedded in the painting) in the centre can be viewed as a star or planet floating in grey and black space. The silence in the cavernous studio is periodically shattered by the sound of metal against metal. It’s the sound of the installation ‘Krodh’, composed of a magnet attached to a pulley, which draws a metal chain from within a large urn and drops it when reaches a certain height. The sound is meant to discombobulate viewers and disrupt the daily inertia of life. Similarly ‘Birth of a Star’ has two gigantic lotas joined together by a beam of light. The sculpture, which recalls British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s shiny installations, is surrounded by mirrors that periodically and loudly vibrate, creating a noise meant to unsettle viewers.
Suitcase Museum is the title of a show that encompasses a number of photographic series. Some of these are displayed in wooden grids that open and close in accordion-like fashion and can be packed up like a cabinet. Viewing the images thus feels like entering a chamber, a private museum in which the objects are a person’s memories of people, places and things. In fact the beauty of the show lies in how it’s designed. Those who’ve followed Singh’s work over the years will be familiar with the images. It’s the unfolding cabinets and the arrangement of the photographs that make you see them anew and give the impression of wandering through the corridors of the photographer’s mind. ‘Museum of Chance’, for instance, has two such edifices facing each other with a table and stools in between. They contain portraits of Mona Ahmed, a eunuch in Delhi who Singh has photographed since the beginning of her career; tabla players Zakir Hussain and his father Allahrakha Qureshi, the Carnatic classical music vocalist T. M. Krishna, as well as images of rooms and places. The selection of images seems random, much like the process of reminiscence in which a memory leads to another.
‘Museum of Little Ladies’ has pictures of the photographer as a young girl shot by her mother Nony Singh. She’s shown in fancy dress – as a nun, an angel, a Kashmiri girl – and as a young adult. The other images are of young girls, usually in frocks posing in homes filled with vintage furniture. The most recognisable of these is the picture of a leggy girl lying on a bed, her face hidden beneath a cloth, from Singh’s 2007 book Go Away Closer. The titular ‘Suitcase Museum’ has 44 ‘book-objects’ that can be packed into two leather suitcases. These are photographs from Singh’s 2015 book Museum of Chance that are mounted on hardbound, framed books and hung on the wall.
Anhad/Unstruck will run until Saturday, December 31 at Famous Studios, Dr. E. Moses Road, Mahalaxmi. Open daily, from 11am to 7pm. Get directions here. There is no entry fee. Suitcase Museum will run until Tuesday, February 21 at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Rani Baug, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Road, Byculla. Tel: 022 2373 1234. Open Thursday to Tuesday, from 10am to 5.30pm; Wednesday, closed. Get directions here. Tickets for Indians are priced at Rs10 per person for adults and children above the age of 13 and at Rs5 per person for children below the age of 13, and tickets for foreigners are priced at Rs100 per person for adults and children above the age of 13 and at Rs50 per person for children below the age of 13.