On the mezzanine floor of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai, a recording of a heartbeat thrums through the space. The sound accompanies a pulse made of white neon lights, as it encircles a suspended infinity symbol made out of textured white khadi, that floats in between a mirrored floor and ceiling. “Two months ago, when I visited Rajghat, I learned that Gandhiji’s heartbeat was considered ‘the perfect heartbeat’ — he lived with such discipline that doctors had predicted that he’d live to be 125 years. He made every moment of his life purposeful. I wanted to create a tunnel where I could capture that essence of infinity,” says Gaurav Gupta, couturier, and one of the 10 artists, whose work is featured in an exhibition, “Santati: Mahatma Gandhi Then. Now. Next”.
The multi-disciplinary exhibition takes over every floor of the NGMA, merging different forms — painting, photography, sculpture, literature, textile, video — to create a 360-degree view of how Gandhi’s philosophy has resonated with artists across time. “It’s an exhibition to be experienced. We’ve tried to create a meditative atmosphere,” says Lavina Baldota of the Abheraj Baldota Foundation, and the show’s curator. Her grandfather, Abheraj Baldota, was associated with Gandhi during the freedom struggle.
It’s been three years in the making, she says, a collaboration that first began with textile artist Gaurang Shah. “In the beginning, we thought of a khadi weaving project. But it just didn’t feel enough. Also, Gandhiji’s influence wasn’t limited to just one kind of art — it resonated with multiple forms, and for the first time, we’ve brought them all together under one roof,” says Baldota.
Santati means continuum, and the exhibition travels through time from the first floor, till the last space below the central dome. It begins with the doyens of the contextual modernism movement, artists Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij. Across them are paintings by the students of the JJ School of Art, made during the Independence Movement. Here, a marriage of different miniature styles with a focus on Gandhi is showcased. “While the Bose and Baij works are from the NGMA’s archives, the other paintings are from the art school archives, where students interpreted Gandhi-ism in different ways,” says Baldota, who also picked out archival photographs of Gandhi, taken by noted photographer Kulwant Roy. Some of the images have been recreated from broken negatives, lending the final product a three-dimensional effect.
Other collaborators include fashion designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, whose installation uses indigo dye to focus on satyagraha; poet Navkirat Sodhi who pays tribute with verses written around the theme of Gandhi’s life and ideas; architect Ashiesh Shah’s installation features objects created by rural artisans using traditional techniques. Delhi-based light designers, Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth of Klove Studio, have designed a pink rock salt, metal and blown glass installation titled Ahimsa that is inspired by Gandhi’s iconic round-shaped spectacles and the 24-day Dandi March. Another remarkable section of the exhibition belongs to Jean François Lesage — through couture embroidery, on khadi. The French couturier has recreated Gandhi’s letters and postcards. “Kishore Jhunjhunwala, a leading collector of all objects regarding Gandhi, had his ashes and we’ve also created a shrine for the urn, so that people can pause and introspect in front of it,” says Baldota.
The piece de resistance of the show is on the final floor. In a first of its kind, Shah and weavers from Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh, have recreated paintings by Raja Ravi Varma on the pallu of khadi saris. “This has been done through the jamdaani weave; the yarns dyed in over 600 shades of vegetable dye. With over 40 artisans involved, each sari takes up to six months,” says Shah, who credits master craftsman Junaid Khatri from Kutch, who created a colour palette never seen before in textiles. The saris are hung over giant loom-like bamboo structures and are truly an amazing sight. Shah has not thought of selling the saris yet — he’d rather take them around the world first.
Santati is at the NGMA, Mumbai, till November 15; 11 am to 6 pm
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