Art News & Views

Staging Selves: Power, Performativity & Portraiture


by Snehal Tambulwadikar

Mumbai. It's all about the presence of absence in the spaces; and how the selves define the same. the self, the other all are presented/represented in or outside the space and here the space is re-created for us to invade theirs with our 'selves'.

The show at Sakshi Art Gallery, Staging Selves: Power, Performativity and Portraiture stands out for many reasons, curation being one of the significant, curated by Maya Kovskaya with works by Ravi Agarwal, Sheba Chhachhi, Gauri Gill, Samar Jodha and Tejal Shah, Waswo X. Waswo, Malekeh Nayiny and O Zang. The show started on September 2 and continued till September 25, 2011.

In the series Seven Lives and a Dream- Feminists Portraits by Sheba Chhachhi arguably marks the shift in contemporary photography in India from traditional documentary to self consciously staged photography. The artists has worked in dialogue with feminists activists who spanned the class spectrum, allowing her subjects to determine for themselves the defining personal effects with which to surround themselves, and set up the representations of self. Likewise for Balika Mela Gauri Gill participated in local mela for girls in rural Rajasthani community. Samar Singh Jodha has documented the living conditions of commonwealth games workers in Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? Han Bing, in his New Culture Movement stages portraits of rural migrant labourers, posing with brick in hand, and the way people used to traditionally hold a book for their portrait in china during 1920's. Malekah Nayiny has tried to connect images and objects during her recent pat and accomplish a kind of personal alchemy in the incoherence. In Bhatti Mines Ravi Agarwal advocates for the community living in periphery of Delhi, struggling to maintain their homes and livelihood while the city seeks to expel them as slum 'squatters'. O Zhang's Daddy & I and Gauri Gill's the Americans, both focus on urban populations, and return to the question of community membership. Tejal Shah's Women Like Us/I AM tries to reconfigure the gaze around group of women who do not fit into the dominant notions of 'woman' in India.

The hanging images of girls portraying themselves locating their identity as female selves are followed by the imagery of women relocating their identity as fe 'males'. The both together unease one where the females are fighting to be females and other where they are trying to come of out their identity. What and whose identity is this?  At the same time the works of Waswo X. Waswo, O Zang and Malekeh Nayiny make an interesting statement, Nayiny staging the lived life again, O zang the life given by one to the other and Waswo the altered life.

The works of Ravi Agarwal and Samar Singh Jodha make a good element as they portray the lives of completely others, who are and who are highlighted as so. Sheba Chhachhi's work goes to another parameter, where the self is staging the selves.

The whole creation of other space enhances the quality of impact, the curation of the show promises the curatorial practices in India. The works stand strong on their 'space' value. The visual moves ahead of the media, the viewer is submitted to the interiors of room, the otherness of the other makes one feel other himself, the heteropia of selves delineate you from the ease of yours. The media here defies the 'self', rather than revealing the stages, it reveals you. Most significantly, the works make a statement through the space rather than as individuals, the created space is like setup for performance, without which the staging would not have been successful.

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