Monday, 9 March 2015

Subtextual Documentalists

Subtextual Documentalists
Jyoti Bhatt & Manisha Gera Baswani
Presented 7th Nov to 20th Nov 2014
A SITE art space &
The Collective Studio Baroda

The process of archiving is the preservation of things considered to be of significance. The need to keep anecdotal memories alive for posterity, so that they remain palpable and assertive long after their occurrence, allows for personal histories to contribute to larger episodes of historical narratives. Such undertakings hold socio-cultural value as they call attention to subjects that lie outside of prescriptive academic interests, and which would otherwise be lost or forgotten without this insistence to memorialising them through independent endeavours of historicity.

Jyoti Bhatt and Manisha Gera Baswani are self-designated documentalists. The camera became an interjectory tool quite by accident for both these artists. However, they very quickly adapted to observing life through a camera lens, and began to use it in diaristic ways. Their common interest in documenting their respective contemporary surroundings by photographing them persistently and exhaustively, offers us revelations that would otherwise be obscured and off limits from any recorded scrutiny.

These photographs record events and occurrences of the life and times of an art community, and by virtue of their proximity to the professions of their subjects, Jyoti Bhatt and Manisha Gera Baswani become participants unwittingly within this chronicled history; lending these images a subtext of autobiographic interpretation.  Being privy to these private worlds disallows them from ever becoming voyeurs. Instead you recognise the ambient connection they forge with these photographic narratives that also reflect the prevailing cultural climate they both belong to.

Jyoti Bhatt’s black and white photographs presented in this exhibition evoke an era where the climate of cultural change within India was charged with passionate discourse, and where the implementation of newly formed governing modules for national platforms of art activities were being strategized. Art education and independent art practices began to flourish in post-colonial India. Stalwarts like N.S.Bendre, Shankho Chowdhury and K.G Subramanyan, along with cultural theorists, re-phrased aesthetic canons that were instrumental in shaping those early years of Indian contemporary art. Many of the people photographed in these images were engaged in articulating ideas of modernity, and its newly phrased implications. Jyoti Bhatt places these moments of personal struggle and collective enquiry before us, without any desire to underline its historical importance, but instead offers it as a personal journey he has been part of. In his usual self-effacing way, he underplays his role as a visual orator who immortalised an era of seminal change within Indian contemporary art.  What we receive therefore is the gift of a genealogy through this documentation, to which we can trace our own belonging.

Manisha Gera Baswani’s coloured photographs on the other hand, take you into a more assured stance of contemporary Indian art history, where the artist and their practice has acquired a more autonomous space of existence. In this time zone the discourse of Indian art has shifted to encompass the global as a context of belonging. The lens holds focus on her subjects, often in isolation, making them occupy centre stage, thereby emphasizing the role of the artist as an individual - confident and firmly entrenched within a social space of urban acceptance. Her photo documentation is culled from the terrain of an establishment that already holds its rightful place within today’s contemporary cultural history. As a viewer you are led into each photo image to confer with a space of private thought, where you recognise the prevailing intimacy of the moment as fleeting, and therefore supremely special. Manisha Gera Baswani holds you captive to the celebration of artistic musings. She draws your attention to the details that illuminate the character of her subjects and their relationship with their work. Whether in a gallery space, in their studios or homes, or in quiet solitude of reverie, the world of the artist becomes the sequestered prism through which all else is viewed. Contemporaneity recorded will now lend itself to posterity. 

Rekha Rodwittiya - 2014

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