Faces stare at you as you enter house number 24, Jor Bagh, in Delhi. Portraits of people who make the United States of America — Native Americans, settlers from Europe and slaves from Africa — photographed by French photographer Marion Gronier in the last four years, contemplate on the history of the ‘promised land’ and on whose cost it was built. In an adjoining room, one sees another set of portraits — of still life specimens — through which 34-year-old Asmita Parlekar provides a glimpse into the cruel world of illegal wildlife trade. While in the next room, Laetitia D’Aboville follows her father as he moves around at home and explores objects that matter to him. What makes the photographs striking is the description of the exhibit, ‘I go there purposely to mow the nuts’. She writes, “2014. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Neither him, nor anybody agreed to hear it. At the beginning, it was just thought of as the effect of old age.” A little later, it dawned on her that she wasn’t capturing her last days with him, but his disappearance.
Curated by Rahaab Allana and François Cheval, ‘Mutations’ exhibits the works of 16 photographers from India and France, as they contemplate over their respective environments, showcasing public and private zones as interlinked domains and how a mental image translates into an installed piece, in various forms — portraits, landscapes, digital montages, mixed media works and collages. It is organised by Institut Français en Inde in collaboration with The Gujral Foundation, and the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, as part of the ongoing Bonjour India festival.
On curating the exhibition with a range of issues, with one not necessarily connected to the other, François Cheval said, “We wanted to present the new expressions and tendencies in French and Indian photography. In the process, if people see commonalities and similar points of view, that would be ideal, like the political question of ecology, of origin, and of memory.” He noticed a difference of approach between the French and Indian photographers. “The French are more distant with their subject. I don’t know why, but they have one foot outside and one inside while dealing with it.
On the other hand, Indians are face to face with their subject, they attack it directly,” he said. The gallery was once a house, which was later offered for exhibitions. The kitchen space houses Vibha Galhotra’s Absence Presence. She brings to the fore the issue of urbanisation, not only through images, but also throws around rubble picked up from the roads in Delhi. There are also sparrows made with metal. But they only chirp if you press at them. As you walk upstairs, 21 photographs of legs with folded mundus walk with you, with a ghastly voice narrating fairy tales in Malayalam. They remind photographer Indu Antony of an old memory, “possibly of child abuse”. Also on display is Anouck Durand’s photo-novel on Robert Gill, who was sent by the East India Company for reproducing the paintings of The Ajanta Caves, which were exhibited at the Cristal Palace in Sydenham, but burned down in a fire in 1866. Other exhibits document sleepers in the city, transport in Chandni Chowk, playgrounds in France, and bank notes.
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