Raghu Rai: Invocation to India - A Variegated Matrix of the Human Predicament
by Preeti Kathuria Pandey
London: Aicon Gallery London recently showcased a colourful vista of India captured through the enigmatic lens of the eminent photographer Raghu Rai. The exhibition was an extension of his solo presentation at the New Art Exchange, Nottingham as part of the Format International Photography Festival 2011.
In the West, the popularity of Indian art and culture has increased manifold over the years.
According to Rai, real India resides in a complex multi-lingual, multi-cultured and multi-religious society. The exhibition comprised of iconic photographs of highly congested areas of old Delhi bazaars, Varanasi ghats, Kumbh Mela of Allahabad, Kolkata's Howrah bridge, Pushkar fair in Rajasthan and the streets of Mumbai. It seems Rai's idea was to immerse his artistic practice in everyday happenings and then address and re-configure common assumptions about private and public spaces.
Curated by Saleem Arif Quadri MBE, the exhibition investigated the character of public spaces within a pluralistic social structure. Meaning is not confined in standstill moments; rather it is liberated from the ambit of our mundane existence in a society, where religion accelerates the ultimacy of existence. Rai's camera calibrates the sheer dynamism, impulse and vitality of communities in Indian cities. He punctuates his photographic compositions with value-laden spaces pre-existing and the temporary; visible and the non-visible, engaging and the hideous. The trajectories frozen in time are not just about representation and context, instead they are configured to suggest space as a critical factor.
Rai's photographs intrigue us with subtle encounters between tradition and modernity. The naturally-lit images of sacred sites like Varanasi, Allahabad, Pushkar and everyday images of tourists, office goers, wrestlers, eunuchs, and stray dogs come together in a stance to reflect an immensely diverse socio-cultural fabric. American artist John Cage rightly said “the world changes according to the place we place our attention. This process is addictive and energetic.” The dynamics of public and private spaces co-existing with lucid or sometimes absence of boundaries raises questions of a common man's identity. It is interesting how the nature and function of public spaces keeps changing during the day as they are at the disposal of the common man and his everyday requirements.
Amidst the vivid cosmopolitan arena, subjective choices of capturing human existence may appear insufficient or oversimplified but an authentic stance to objectify issues of evasive private domains is hugely appreciable. It instigates us to avoid being indifferent towards life on the streets.