Forgotten ruins and fantastical creatures

Forgotten ruins and fantastical creatures

Sahej Rahal’s first solo show in the country weaves a narrative with video and sculptures

For an hour and a half one July evening last year,a mysterious robed character,wearing a large turban and carrying a didgeridoo,walked the crowded Dhobi Talao subway,startling some fellow pedestrians and invoking a restrained curiosity in others. Those aware will have recognised this as artiste Sahej Rahal’s second performance in the city,Bhramana II. Today,an image or two of that character hang framed on the walls of Chatterjee & Lal gallery in Colaba,

accompanied by a number of curious sculptures and an engrossing 12-minute video.

Titled Forerunner — a name shared by the video in question — these pieces together form Mumbai-based Rahal’s first solo exhibition in the country,which will continue till September 28. The star of the show is the narrative video. “The video was made to document the place that I chose,which is Pir Ghaib in Delhi,” Rahal explains. An observatory or hunting lodge built by Feroz Shah Tughlaq,the monument was given its current name when a man was believed to have disappeared from within it.

But only a small part of the final video uses Pir Ghaib,a rather scenic ruin,as a location. The remainder of the video takes viewers through clips of a satellite orbiting the earth; a character in robe-like attire twirling tubelights in Jedi fashion; and a derelict,abandoned building,also in Delhi,among other things. And all through,a narrator tells the tale of a keeper,an empire and an emperor. “Taking off from the historical records of this place (Pir Ghaib),I created a sort of fictional narrative around it,” says the 25-year-old artiste. “I’ve used my own writing,but there are also references to two stories by (Jorge Luis) Borges — The Lottery in Babylon and On Exactitude in Science.”


Among the various sculptures also on display are the two didgeridoos Rahal has used in two separate performances,a massive,golden helmet also used during one of those acts and three black animal-like figures,one resembling a rather large spider. Of the latter,two were constructed during his residency at Gasworks — a contemporary art organisation in London — from January to April this year,and the third while

at Khoj,Delhi,also earlier this year.

Rahal’s practice is known to employ found objects,a list which thus far has included plastic dolls,PVC pipes,brass knuckles,Doctor Who masks,tubelights and strainers. The video followed a similar pattern. “The idea of the sculptures is also sort of mirroring how I made the video — it involved putting different clips together and then seeing if I can weave a narrative around it,” he says.

For Rahal,the fun lies in coaxing a meaning out of these objects. “I think of how I could,maybe vaguely,make them resemble things that they might remind you of,in history or pop culture,” he adds.

Additionally,there’s also the process of discovering various uses for a simple object that one might otherwise take for granted. “I get to learn how things could work every time I find them and that’s also why I keep doing this,” he says.

With a career of about three years and a handful of exhibitions and performances to his name,it is,perhaps,this inquisitive approach that yields positive results for Rahal. Following a solo show in Switzerland in 2011,the INLAKS Fine Art Award in 2012 and two residencies this year,he will soon leave for Rome for a three-month-long project with ZegnArt — a project by Italy’s Ermenegildo Zegna Group — and Mumbai’s Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum.