An exhibition called Tolstoy Farm,explores contemporary interpretations of Bapu
A dramatic installation of unbaked clay bricks arranged like a traditional einth bhatta (brick kiln) is placed near the entrance of the Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi. Held together with hand-spun thread,this work by Akshay Rathore,with its strong earthen bricks,forms a metaphor for Tolstoy Farm,a site outside Johannesburg in South Africa,that had been gifted to Mahatma Gandhi by architect Hermann Kallenbach to be used as a commune and a laboratory for the latters experiments with truth. An ongoing exhibition Tolstoy Farm: Archive of Utopia,curated by
Gayatri Sinah and hosted by 7 Art Gallery,revisits the idea of this Utopia 100 years later.
At the outset,one notices that the works push the envelope beyond the cliched iconography that usually revolves around Gandhi. They range from Rathores two installations,Asim Waqifs video works,Ravi Agarwal photographs to Riyas Komus sculptural frieze and Mithu Sens glow in the dark sound installation. The exhibition invites the artists to reflect on Gandhian philosophy the way the world perceived incarceration and freedom,caste and apartheid,capital and labour,independence and post colonialism, says Sinah.
The Father of the Nation is still one of the favourite muses for artists and curators,and there have been several exhibitions in Delhi recently dedicated to him. Exhibitions like Freedom to March: Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi curated by Johny ML and Anubhav Nath,have looked at the historical march to Dandi as a take off point,others like Paper Tongue,currently on at Exhibit 320 gallery have dwelt on the iconography of Bapu,from the khadi-spinning charkha to his walking stick and pocket watch.
In Tolstoy Farm,we see nuanced interpretations that go beyond the figurehead Gandhi. For instance Waqifs audio-video Jai Plastic Vishal work captures the Badrinath trail. His camera does not linger on the crowds of pilgrims,but the refuse and garbage left behind them that has choked the Ganga around the site. My works relate to the Utopia of consumption that is seeping into our society. This has led to a situation where the socioeconomic standing of an individual can be gauged according to the waste s/he creates, says Waqif.
Komus 9×30 ft frieze titled Blood Brothers foregrounds the India-Pakistan contention through repeated bust portraits of Jinah and Gandhi.
Aditya Pande takes the theme further by bringing the iconic images of Gandhi at the Salt Satyagraha together with the first men on the moon,Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He has combined the stooping image of Gandhi with that of Aldrin to form the Doordarshan logo,thus symbolising the idea of uniting a country through a national TV channel. These figures had opposing ideologies but,in many ways,they share a bizarre,visually symbiotic equation, says Pande.
Clearly the show moves into a realm that contemplates the current state of the nation,where some of the dreams have died along the way along with Gandhis thought and philosophy.