Sunday, 11 October 2009

July 5, 2009: (Session 5)

Most of the participants reached Jehangir Art Gallery at 2.10 pm, along with Priyanka. It was different kind of a gathering for the women, with most them decked up for their day out of their lives of drudgery. After the congregation was complete (which included making some calls to those who hadn't arrived till quite some time and ensuring who all wouldn't be joining the team), it was decided that a group photo should be taken at the footsteps of Jehangir Art Gallery. All of them women had shed their black robes except for Reshma. We entered the first gallery on the left hand side on the ground floor and saw a painting exhibition done by four male artists. Their works were about religion, violence, peace, popular media, ruined childhood, rural life and other landscapes. While some of the women pondered over each canvas in their bid to understand what meaning the strokes tried to convey, there were others who thought that it indeed required a significant amount of patience and will power and hard work to paint on such large canvases.

This latter idea was reconfirmed by Nimisha Sharma and Veena Chitrakar, who are daughters of renowned artist Indra Sharma. The exhibition by Veena had paintings done by her in her typical style of various lines and textures, akin to textiles. She explained how the two sisters were inspired by their father's dedication to his painting, who would often forget to eat his meals while he would be engrossed in his studio. The participants of our workshop queried Veena on her way of working and the artist was humble to take the women through a tour of her paintings. She helped them understand the bigger picture in her paintings one at a time, which helped the participants realise the different ways of seeing and expressing.

The adjoining gallery had some metal sculptures which was observed with keen eyes by the participants. The designs were radical and this enthused the participants to look at the made objects from different angles. After many photographs taken within the gallery, the contingent walked up a few metres behind Jehangir Art Gallery, to the Goethe Hall, where Rekha was showing her exhibition.

The participants of our workshop were enthralled to see a vibrant Rekha – with salt and pepper hair, colourful capris and a dynamic demeanour, Rekha explained to the participants how she loved painting and despite her age of 55, she was as enthusiastic as her grandchild who was in town to check his grandmother's exhibition. When one of the participants commented that most of the characters in Rekha's paintings had their eyes shut, Rekha retorted, “But isn't that how most people are – leading their lives blindly?” and she was rewarded with a thundering laughter and applause for her honest observation and its manifestation onto her canvas. Rekha had also reserved a small section in the exhibition hall to her husband's few aerial photographs. He had recently taken to photography and Rekha thought that they were good enough photographs to be displayed in her exhibition. The participants seemed to be refreshed and renewed upon meeting such a person with a positive and inspiring outlook, and with that, the group crossed the road to Bodhi Art Gallery. The ground floor had some photographs on Ladakh as well as some portraits in black and white, while the upper floor had some photographs by Ketki Sheth, who had some candid black and white photographs of film stars of Bollywood.

After a brief inspection of photographs at Bodhi Art Gallery, the participants packed themselves into taxis and headed towards the NCPA, to be treated to a visual delight by a presentation by Mukesh Parpiani, the curator of Piramal Gallery. As the former photo editor at Indian Express and Mid-Day, Parpiani showcased his body of work through the times of Mumbai – from black and white photographs of politicians and riots to coloured photographs of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. There were about 50 photographs that could be categorised into hard and soft news. Parpiani then entertained questions about how tough getting to a news spot was in the days without the mobile phone and when he would hack into the radar of the Mumbai police's wireless service to get news about incidents, so that he could rush his photographers at the spot.

After a break of about 15 minutes which was a well-satiating one with sandwiches, tea, biscuits and sweets, Parpiani showed the participants around the gallery, showing them archival and art photography. After a heavy dose of seeing with dedicated eyes, it was decided to get soaked in the light air of the Marine Drive. For a few women, it was the first time that they had been there and their fluttering tresses was a kind juxtaposition to their ardent desire to be able to move about and live their lives freely. A long photo session ensued and the women were seen in a demeanour like never before. The participants of our workshop were living it to the fullest in that half hour by the sea – somehow, the sea was a metaphor of finding its own shores and flowing freely despite coming across the boulders, just like the women who desired to flow in their own individual lives notwithstanding their own personal hurdles.

Some of the women were getting late to reach home. Some, like Raheema, had lied to their families that they were going to Kurla for the workshop as was the case on every Thursday. So it was essential that they get home on time so as not to attract attention for reaching home late. But others like Heena did not show an ounce of the need or desire to get back home. They opened up the knots in their hair, much like opening up their bottled frustrations; they swung on the streets with no care, much like they would love to do that more regularly; they laughed aloud and wished to laugh more till their tummies ached, in their own mundane lives. Alas, they had to get back to the same place which, rotten as it was, had forced them to come to Awaz-E-Niswaan in the first place.

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