Origins, a photo exhibition, features the work of artists, authors from India and the UK
THE WORD ‘history’ has a fascinating relationship with India and the United Kingdom (UK). In fact, it would be safe to say that history has tied the two countries together from time immemorial. A relationship that started with trade almost 150 years ago, and endured countless ups and downs, now stands resolute on cultural, economical and political pillars.
While culture, cuisine, education, sports, and the people of both these nations have helped the relationship grow strength-by-strength, there are many other efforts that add to this growing bond. But who would have thought that one such effort would be from the field of photography.
PHOTOUK-INDIA, an initiative of the British Council in association with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, aims to bring together the works of photographers from both the lands. The first token of the PHOTOUK-INDIA initiative is Origins, an exhibition at the British Council in New Delhi, featuring the work of 31 artists and six authors from India and the UK. Unveiled on October 15, Origins will be on display till January 3, 2016. The exhibition is also a partner event of the Delhi Photo Festival, 2015. “We’ve selected works based on people’s experiences and biographies. And we’ve also selected work that is based on a document of shifting global cultures. So, in a sense, the idea of the exhibition is not to look at Origins as a static thing. It is always in motion, it’s always changing and it’s also driven by media,” says curator Rahaab Allana.
While most of the works at the exhibition have an Indian and British presence about them, some others have shared images, videos and stories with which they share a deep, personal connection. Patrick Sutherland’s story about his tryst with the Spiti Valley, displayed in his work Spiti, is an example of such a connection. Hailing from Norwich, UK, Sutherland arrived in India during the late 1970s. “I was interested in the possibility of doing something that was to do with the Tibetan diaspora and exiled Tibetans – not just in India and Nepal, they have got quite a big population in Switzerland – for a broad take on the diaspora community,” says Sutherland.
After some research and discussions with a friend, who had become a monk in the Tibetan tradition, Sutherland was invited to Spiti where his friend’s colleague from the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala, wanted to set up an educational project. “At that time, because of the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Spiti had been blocked to all outsiders for 30 years. It was only just starting to open up. So, we travelled with a monk called Tashi Namgyal. We went from Dharamsala to Manali to Spiti. I was staying with Tashi’s relatives in a little village. Then I moved to other houses and basically experienced day-to-day village life. But right from the start, I was given amazing, open access to the community,” Sutherland recalls. From then on, Sutherland has spent almost two decades in Spiti, documenting the life of the people at a place where he still feels ‘fantastically at home’.
He feels positive about the collaboration, through the exhibition, between artists from the UK and India, both of whom share ‘a long history’. “This is a creative, artistic statement. Lots of people are working in different ways and what you get from this is a sense of the broad spectrum of contemporary creative practice… I don’t think you would go into the exhibition and say that’s distinctively Indian or British because those boundaries are blurring and shifting. I think photography is kind of representative of some of those social and political changes,” Sutherland adds.
While Sutherland’s ‘Spiti’ is a spectacle about the extraordinary community of the Spiti Valley, Devansh Jhaveri’s Red Dress Project is an amalgamation of dance knowledge from London and the aesthetics of photography from India. As part of the Red Dress Project, Jhaveri photographed London-based movement artist Manuela Benini in Alang (Gujarat), at one of the world’s biggest ship-breaking yards. The colossal vessels became props for Benini.
“The work I am showing here is a collaboration between a British dancer and she (Benini) has been visiting India, so we have been shooting across different locations. The collaboration fits in perfectly with what my Red Dress Project was all about. There’s bringing in of the Indian aesthetics mixing with the dance knowledge of what she has learned back in the UK,” says Jhaveri.
‘Origins’ also gave a snapshot of how photography can be done in many ways – that a story will always have different angles. Srinivas Kuruganti, for example, often focuses on the periphery of a story. His other published pictures have focussed on the lives of people in Indian communities who have faced the wrath of economic and social hardships.
But his work, Caught Between The Moon and New York City, is a memoir about his stint in England. “Generally, most photographs I take or the stories I work on are very much about the periphery. This work, in particular, is more like a very personal essay about my life in England,” says Kuruganti, who adds that the collaboration between so many artists will surely yield new ideas. “It is a wonderful thing because it helps bring together different kinds of work. It’s a way to look at work you normally wouldn’t see. And for that, you get very experimental and new ideas and work come out,” Kuruganti adds.