Photography

India at 70: Photographers trace the nation’s evolution without showing any of its historic events

An exhibition in Wales depends on the experiences of artists to depict the changes in the life of independent India.

Amid the din made by those who want to appropriate histories comes an exhibition that baulks at a reading of the past that privileges some views. A Million Mutinies Later – India at 70, a show of lens-based works by 14 contemporary Indian artists, looks at history as something that transpires in liminal spaces – not at the end of revolutions, but in between and alongside them.

“Usually we see a revolution as an event that has already happened – it is the victory of an idea or a people,” said Anshika Varma, one of the show’s three curators on phone from Cardiff, where A Million Mutinies Later is on at Ffotogallery till July 22.

But the way the curators see it, India has been constantly shifting, forever moving its entire independent life. In the past 30 years alone, change has arrived via economic liberalisation, and through the spread of cellphones, internet and social media.

“For us as curators, what was important was this flux,” she said.

Photo credit: Monica Tiwari
Photo credit: Monica Tiwari

A Million Mutinies Later has many associations. For one, it is part of the biennial Diffusion: Cardiff International Festival of Photography, organised by Ffotogallery. For another, it is part of Dreamtigers, a year-long collaboration between Ffotogallery and Nazar Foundation, which holds the Delhi Photo Festival. Besides these, it is also on the itinerary of events being held in the UK to celebrate 70 years of India as an independent nation: India-UK Year of Culture.

The show’s idiom is inspired by the theme of the 2017 Diffusion festival – revolution. In the concept note, the curators, Varma, Bhooma Padmanabhan and Iona Fergusson, elaborate on the idea in the Indian context:

“As a modern nation and global economic player, India has been seen on the threshold over the last thirty years – with liberalisation making way for a constant barrage of reforms and revolts, spurred on by the massive changes brought on by the coming of information technology, urbanisation, and a renewed sense of nationalism… A Million Mutinies Later – India at 70 is an enquiry into not only the real India but the equally present and significant other, i.e. the imagined India, which has significantly evolved and transformed itself in the public sphere and the minds of Indians over the years.”  

Photo credit: Anushree Fadnavis
Photo credit: Anushree Fadnavis

Though the focus is on changes in India over time, the show isn’t chronological, according to Varma. Nor does it exhibit works that directly correspond with news events that heralded historic changes. Instead, the references come through in the experiences and creative expressions of the artists.

Anushree Fadnavis, for instance, takes pictures on a mobile phone in her ongoing series about passengers in the ladies’ compartment of Mumbai’s suburban trains. Another photographer in the show who shoots mainly on the cellphone is Reshma Pritam Singh, although her context is very different – self-portraits.

“The medium affords a kind of intimacy,” said Varma, of cellphone photography.

Photo credit: Arko Datto
Photo credit: Arko Datto

Still photography is among the many mediums at A Million Mutinies Later that also include videos and dummy photobooks that use archival material. As varied as these mediums is the show’s lineup that includes Ryan Lobo, Bharat Sikka and Sohrab Hura, besides several artists who aren’t renowned internationally.

David Drake, the director of Ffotogallery, said of Sohrab Hura’s work: “[It] certainly packs a punch, in terms of the combination of appropriated material [from archives] and new photography, and its treatment with the harsh jump cuts, sublimal images and pounding rock soundtrack.”

Matter. Photo credit: Bharat Sikka
Matter. Photo credit: Bharat Sikka

Drake also cited the example of Bharat Sikka’s Matter as a work that uses lens-based art in interesting ways. “He showed me a book dummy for the Matter project when I was in Delhi earlier this year. The virtually monochrome imagery in Matter has a poetic, minimalist quality, and I like the way he mixes studio and location photography, different genres and various presentational formats such as combining images pasted directly to the wall with framed prints.”

To Varma, this multiplicity of styles itself is an extension of the theme of flux. “Photography as a medium has also changed,” she explained. “From a journalistic tool, it has become a medium for artistic expression.”

Photo credit: Anushree Fadnavis
Photo credit: Anushree Fadnavis

A Million Mutinies Later – India at 70 is on at Ffotogallery in Cardiff, UK, till July 22.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.