Celebrating the Extraordinary Grandeur of Smallness @ Serendipity Arts Festival, 2017 – Goa

December 23, 2017
Mahesh Bhat
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Sometime in the beginning of this year Dinesh Khanna called me asking if I would work on the 3rd volume of UNSUNG for Serendipity Arts Festival, 2017 @ Goa. I asked him if I could think about it.

When I began working on project UNSUNG in 2004 my aim was just to produce a book. I worked on it for 3 years. The book published the book in 2007. It helped raise nearly Rs.9 million to the heroes featured in the book over the next few years. It was used as a case study in IIM-Bangalore. It received rave reviews and readers wrote in to say how it inspired them. Inspired by the first book, I received grants to do the 2nd volume by two enlightened individuals. I roped in 5 other photographers and 8 writers to contribute and it was published in 2016. The stories in the first volume told the stories with the help of images and essays about the heroes. I changed the format of the book a bit. There are images, a first person essay by the hero, a small essay by the photographer and an essay on a related subject. The structure of the book changed and evolved.

Sometime in 2013, even before the 2nd volume was published, I read the review of a book called Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. It fascinated me. It was a fascinating book. I knew immediately that if I ever did a 3rd volume, it would celebrate the extraordinary grandeur of smallness.

I called Dinesh  and said this is what I wanted to do for the 3rd volume and that we would work with women photographers and lens based artists. When he proposed the idea to the team of Serendipity Arts Festival – Serendipity Arts Trust enthusiastically backed our idea of working with 5 women artists and generously supported the project all through. Smriti Rajgarhia-Bhatt Taarini Savara, Nandita Jaishankar and others in the team have extended awesome support. And Dinesh of course as usual, in his quiet, cool manner was always there when we needed his support and advice.

Aparna worked with 2 families in Gurugram that of Bimlesh and Sangeeta. They work in the smallest of houses but live in total happiness. Dipti worked in Dhanushkodi, the forgotten outpost of India. Karen Dias worked on the story of poet and traditional healer Lakshmi Kutty Amma. Neeraja saw the extraordinary in a neglected but bustling old structure in Yalahanka in northern Bangalore. Sharmistha’s story on the silk weavers of Varanasi used Kabir’s Jeeni Chadariyan as the foundation. In His famous poem Kabir wasn’t talking about a piece of cloth that was being woven. It takes nine months for a human life to be created and why are we treating ourselves, our lives and or bodies so gross? He asked. His question was relevant in 17th century and it is relevant now. Sharmistha Dutta pondered over this question in Kabir’s poem through her photographs of the life of weavers around Varanasi. She asked while they weaves sarees so exquisite, why is their life so hard? Why do they earn so little?

I wrote in my curator’s note – “Our artists Aparna Mohindra, Deepti Asthana, Karen Dias, Neeraja D, and Sharmistha Dutta tell the stories of these unseen lives, places, and philosophies that inhabit the liminal boundaries between worlds. Working in Delhi, Dhanushkodi, the jungles of Ponmudi near Trivandrum, Bangalore, and Varanasi, these artists have looked at lives and places with attention and patience. Looking at their work needs attentiveness. We present the possibilities of art to reveal more than the obvious; there are multiple stories in each image. As Neeraja says, if you turn that little stone on the field, a whole new ecosystem will be revealed.”

Please see the film below to get a better idea about the work of our artists.

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They produced truly a wonderful body of work – multi layered & thought provoking. The challenge was to show it meaningfully. I decided to make the exhibition multi layered. Legendary designer Kenya Hara’s exhibition ‘Haptic‘ gave me several ideas. It was housed to be the old PWD building in Panjim. The space was beautiful but run down. The festival team did a fantastic job of renovating the space in record time. The show was made up of digitally printed images shot by Aparna, Deepti, Karen and Sharmistha, Neeraja’s laser photogravuers with their specially designed repurposed team wood frames,sound, music and physical objects from some of the locations they worked in. We had sand from Dhanushkodi, water from Ponmudi river and silk threads from Varanasi. Few poems of Lakshmi Kutty Amma were translated into English by my colleague Pooja Sagar and we exhibited them with the originals in Malayalam.  Here are a set of images of the show that ran from 14th December till 22 December, 2017.