Body – The Inner Self on the Outer Skin

Knowledge about any spatial location can be understood in multiple ways. The body, as space, can be perceived as an ultimate frontier of complexities. To merely view the body as a biological entity is to restrict its form of communication. Instead, the body should be viewed as a site of culture imbued with powerful aesthetic, which is symbolic of socio-political meaning. If one were to further elaborate on the idea of the ‘body as a cultural site’, one could perhaps say that the body is an artefact upon which humans reinforce cultural norms and hierarchies, as well as de-attach themselves from the way the body itself has been marked, fetishized, and molded in compliance with existing human ideologies.


Sonia Khurana, Bird 2000, 3’06” , Betacam SP PAL, noir et blanc, silencieux, Collection: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (France)


When we talk about the body it also becomes important to talk about aesthetic experience, that is, how the body is a reflection of the complex interrelationship between the self and society. Furthermore, the aesthetic experience is a powerful dynamism in the development and maintenance of one’s individual as well as group identity. For example, a manipulation of the bodily aesthetic is a remodeled presentation of self, therefore the desire to change the fundamental order of one’s sense of personal identity, and how this sense of selfhood is to be viewed from the eyes of the other.

Let me also point out that when one hears the term ‘aesthetic experience’, one often tends to think of an experience associated with a museum or art gallery. However, the aesthetic experience is very much part of one’s personal life and is not simply restricted to formal spatial locations. An aesthetic experience in relation to the body marks a ritualization in which one’s sense of being/self is etched by aesthetic decisions. Any noticeable changes in the aesthetic self-presentation are often associated with the individual’s changing perception of themselves, and of their place in society.
From a contemporary feminist point of view, the aesthetic experience of the body is a topic that feminist artists are constantly engaging with. Women artists have embraced performativity in their art practice because of its ability to not be confined by the unchanging permanency of sculpture and painting. Themes such as sexuality, beauty, domesticity, are being critiqued by women artists who are re-claiming a feminist space for critical reflection.

Indian feminist artists such as Pushpmala N and Sonia Khurana, amongst others, are aiming to create a world within which women get to re-write notions of beauty and ‘feminine’ expression. Their expanding idiom of art practice is situated within the context of the feminist critique of the correlation of women to the prevailing dominant power structures and systems of representation. Their performances go beyond a language of acceptance which render females as passive, with the body always assuming an active role.

Moreover, feminist art practices not only act as mediating sites between one’s selfhood and bodily aesthetic but also as mediums through which women can reclaim their bodies and express who they are, here and now. Through their visual vocabulary, they break away from traditional notions of eternal femininity, and gravitate towards a contemporary notion of ‘femininity’. Through engaging with the body as an active, political tool, feminist artists highlight female subjectivity and identity.

So how does feminist art contribute to the aesthetic experience? Its contribution lies in its ability to provoke, disturb, and critically question the existing socio-political milieu. It is through this disturbed aesthetic that feminist art strives to affect and bring a change towards a gender-equal space. To insert the body within feminist art practice offers a new dialogue between the body and society. In other words, it aims to understand the body’s continued effort to articulate and challenge issues of domination and vulnerability within the patriarchal system.

Engaging with the body through feminist art gives way to liberation, opens up ways to reverse power dynamics, as well as aim to launch a further inquiry into the everyday aesthetic experience. It is through the site of the body that one protests, questions, and critiques existing paradigms. So what is the aesthetic experience? Simply put, to understand one’s body beyond the realm of its physicality and to use the body as a medium for understanding one’s place in the world.



Are Indian Women Failing Science or Is Science Failing Indian Women?

This is a question troubling many young minds, inside as well as outside the scientific space. Scientific institutions in India claim to have made policies as well as programmes to encourage the participation of women in Science. However, despite such efforts, female scientists are still raising issues of gender inequality in science. Why, you ask? Simply because scientific institutions in this country have closed their doors to people on the margins, and opened it only for the powerful minorities.

This ‘gated-ness’ of science is precisely the issue feminists are tackling today.

An individual’s access to science is highly dependent on their social location in society. Needless to say, for a woman, her gender determines her accessibility to science. From being pushed into careers such as nursing, social working, women are advised to get into professions which have ‘feminine attributes’. Today women are breaking the culturally ascribed timetables for them, and entering the world of science which has been monopolized by men. Even though women are entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, the real question to ask is — are they treated as equals in practise? Are they given the same opportunities as men to lead and to control?

The above image, one of a team of women celebrating the success of India’s Mars Mission in 2014 swiftly went viral on the Internet. And it started a conversation about the gender inequality within the scientific community, one that has been pertinent over generations.

Women in science are visible as the ‘second sex’, but not as scientists.

Gender bias has permeated at a graduate level, promotional and performance levels, not giving proper credits where its due, salary and funding events. In fact, starting from school itself to professional occupations in science, Indian women have lagged behind in the race to become scientists.

The under-representation of women in the field of science is reflective of the obvious gender imbalance in science in India. Numerous scientific institutions in our country provide evidence for stark gender disparity by pointing towards marriage, child care, and family responsibilities. Interestingly, such duties are not expected out of male scientists as they are of female scientists. As a result, this implicit understanding implies that women are not suitable to advance in their scientific careers compared to their male counterparts.

Upon a closer look, a pyramidical structure is visible when it comes to the entry of women into science. That is, we see a lot of women entering the scientific domain, however, lesser and lesser women make it to the top. Why so? Simply because a lot of young women are forced to opt for ‘soft’ scientific professions such as teaching, so that they are ‘less pressurized’ and can easily balance work and family life. In fact, many women in science are not taken as seriously as men in terms of career advancement as they might drop out in order to cater to their ‘future roles’ as wives and mothers.

Apart from such implicit biases, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields mainly because of the lack of female role models to look up to. The reasons for this may be two fold — the lack of women in scientific careers or, the lack of recognition (and therefore, visibility) for women who are already pursuing these careers. For women, the road towards science is a bit foggy. If many women have not taken up the road to science, how are young women supposed to visualize their future path to science? How can women be something that they simply cannot see?

Many parents as well as educators inculcate the idea that males are expected to major in sciences or economics in higher studies, while women should study humanities or ‘arts’.

Such shared assumptions, and sexist exclusionary behaviour classifies males as ‘systematisers’ and women as ‘empathizers’, thus demoralising a lot of women who are yet to make their career choice.

Or for that matter, even while parents explain science to their children, the usage of the term ‘he’ is used instead of ‘she’, thereby indirectly informing their children that science is an activity pursued by males. Such gendered stereotypical language acts as mechanism making a distinction between who ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ do science. Unfortunately, this can diminish not only children’s interest in science, but also compromise the diversity of future scientific workplaces.

The topic of women in science unfolds the complex ways by which the scientific space is shaped by hidden power, privilege, and exclusion. Only if we start viewing science as a personal and social activity, instead of an impersonal one, can we decolonize science. That is, to uncover the implicit gender bias that exists within it.

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A Feminist Reading Of Baburao Bagul’s Mother: A Story Of Dual Oppression

Author Baburao Bagul, a pioneer of Marathi Dalit literature, in his short story titled Mother, lends a voice to motherhood and widowhood experienced by a lower caste Dalit woman. Baburao throws light upon the dual discrimination faced by Dalit women along the lines of gender and caste, thereby exposing realistic experiences of the Dalit community. Filled wit feelings of pain and loss, the author attempts to provoke readers with questions such as— whose experience of motherhood is universalised? Does motherhood differ along the lines of caste? Can the voice of a subaltern mother be heard? If so, is there any form of emancipation possible for her?

As a response to the complexities of gender, violence, and caste, Bagul’s story is focused around the life of an ‘unusual’ mother (unnamed), and her son Pandu. The father is diagnosed with tuberculosis, and as a result, the pressure on Pandu’s mother to be the sole breadwinner of the family is immense. Things take a turn for the worse, when the father, in his perpetual drunken state, abuses Pandu’s mother verbally, physically, and emotionally as he suspects her of infidelity.

Consequently, attempts are made by him to disfigure the mother, with the motive of making her unattractive. Such a narrative reflects the deeply engrained patriarchal mindset in Pandu’s father, where he feels a strong sense of entitlement over ‘his’ woman’s body. This need to conquer, control, and confine a woman’s body is a way of asserting male privilege on women.


Things take a turn for the worse when Pandu’s teacher recites a poem on motherhood, where a mother is referred to Vatsalya Sindhu (a river of mother love). The poem reflects the traditional notion of motherhood as constructed by society for brahmanical women. That, the ‘goodness’ of a mother is measured by her ability to shower her children with love, sacrifices, and care, all within the domain of the private sphere of the household. Pandu tries to fit in his mother in this idealised image of a motherhood, however his thoughts are interrupted when a few upper caste boys make fun of his mother stating “Don’t touch Pandu, any of you. My mother says Pandu’s mother sleeps with the mukadam (pimp)” (Bagul 1990).

With this we see, how untouchability and impurity remain as markers of Dalit identity, thereby remaining as a scourge on upper caste mentality. Moreover, since Pandu’s mother happens to be a Dalit woman, the degree of mistreatment is two fold. Why is it so difficult for society to accept a mother to be a widow, and still be ‘pure’ in her relations with people?

Moreover, with the demise of Pandu’s father, his mother has no choice but to venture out in the public domain to earn a living. As a result, this does not permit her to stay in the private realm of the household mostly, thereby, not allowing her to nurture her child.

So does that imply that Pandu’s mother is a ‘bad’ mother? No, the cultural representation of women as mothers is so unidimensional, that mothers having different experiences of maternity appear as an anomaly in the paradigm of motherhood altogether.

The author also sheds light on how Dalit children are constantly marginalised and discriminated against even in school by the upper caste, thus leaving no space for them to understand and value their individualistic experiences. Only after upper caste boys label Pandu’s mother as a prostitute, Pandu too begins to scrutinise her whereabouts. Caught in the midst of patriarchy and casteist mindset, Pandu’s mother’s sacrifices to provide her son with a better life are ultimately overshadowed. Trapped in a cycle of eternal oppression, not only from society but also by her own family members, the quest for emancipation for Dalit women becomes difficult to obtain.

On a societal level, Bagul’s story also sheds light upon the exploitation of Dalit widows by upper caste men. In their eyes, Dalit widows are viewed as powerless, poor, and ‘sexually available’ due to their widowhood. Viewing them as objects of sexual desire, upper caste men satisfy their sexual urge by exploiting them. Due to strong political control combined with high status, any form of agitation by the lower castes is perceived as powerless. As a result, a lot of violence and sexual instances go unreported.

Bagul’s story attempts to blur the line between the personal and the political, by giving women from the margins a voice. It is only when perspectives of people who face instances of political inequality and oppression are incorporated in everyday discourse that the reader is brought closer to the subaltern lifestyle.

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Where Does The Identity Of Female Ascetics Lie In Hinduism?

The phenomenon of asceticism in Hinduism is often regarded as the essential feature of the religious doctrine. Contrary to popular belief asceticism and religion are not synonymous with each other. The ascetic tradition is an embodiment in a person rather than a doctrine. Interestingly, this embodiment is understood as a manifestation solely in males and not in females. The discourse on asceticism in Hinduism allows both sexes to follow the path to attain Moksha or liberation. However, the difference becomes obvious when a female ascetic is given the status of an ‘outsider’ and the male that of an ‘insider’.

The non-conforming, non-familial, non-normative female ascetic thus, remains an invisible being in an overwhelming masculine world of asceticism, where women fight taboos to create a space for the woman as an ascetic.


Since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been debates amongst scholars on the topic of alternative subjectivities regarding which are the notion of revolutionary identities in mainstream discourse. Female asceticism is one such ‘rebel’ identity. However, the question which may arise in many ascetics as well as non-ascetics is — ‘Can a woman be a legitimate ascetic?‘ Yes, she can, but in terms of orthodox religious doctrine, she can become an ascetic only if her renunciation of the domestic realm is accomplished.

In simpler words, Hinduism has always been focused around the upper castes, the Brahmins, and to some extent on the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. The contradictory nature of Hinduism reveals its misogynous inclinations by limiting renunciation to the Dwij or the twice born man. It is important to note, that the twice born man has the freedom of choice between two modes of life — the householder, and the renouncer. But, for women, only a single mode of life has been prescribed — marital life.

Such a mechanism of exclusion in Brahmanic orthodoxy operates on the principle of menstruation — perceived as ‘impure’ and ‘sickly’ by Vedic literature. As a result, women are believed to be innately lacking the ‘natural’ tendency towards achieving Dharma(religious duty), and so they must follow a series of rituals and ceremonies in order to gravitate towards a ‘state of purity’. Such notions of purity and pollution form the foundations of gender relations in the ascetic tradition, thereby making the female ascetic invisible in society.


With so much patriarchal discrimination in the ascetic tradition, I wonder, why do women become ascetics in the first place? Or what kind of women may become ascetics? Sociology and Anthropology suggests that women adopt an ascetic lifestyle upon becoming widows, in order to escape the social stigma attached to widowhood imposed by sectarian chauvinism. Others believe asceticism is a path adopted by these women to escape the inevitable condition of beggary after the death of their immediate family members, most importantly, their husbands.

There are some young renouncers who are submitted the responsibility of the care of a group of pious women since their families cannot afford dowries. In such situations, young girls meet their gurus in ashrams, who then initiate unmarried young girls into their sect and take them under her/his service.

For a woman to become an ascetic, is to question the ascribed cultural norms laid out for them. Attempting to step outside this normative structure gives the female ascetic the status of an ‘outsider’. This is because she has not only chosen to adopt a certain way of life, a life which is primarily prescribed for males, but has also chosen to be critical of, and to question the existing social order. This ‘deviance’ in ascribed gender norms (as Brahmanical orthodoxy would call it), is perceived as a threat to the existing power structure which gives privilege to male ascetics. As a result, there is no surprise that male ascetics would protest against women being ascetics at all.

When it comes to asceticism, the initiation ceremonies mark the separation of a woman from her householder duties. These initiation rituals release women from their previous social identity, which at times can involve shedding of various identity markers that help people to identify one’s social role and status. Feminist artist and activist Sheba Chhachhi in her work ‘Ganga’s Daughters’ (1990) traces the transformation of ordinary women into ascetics as they part with their clothes, hair, name, caste, and familial relations. In search of Moksha, these women embrace their new ascetic identity. An identity, in which they are no longer anybody’s parents, sisters, or wives.


That being said, the life of a woman ascetic in Hinduism is under appreciated, and holds a complicated position. As they step out of the orthodox Brahmanical system of surveillance into newly formed identities as ascetics, women are perceived as beings who have conquered their right to be granted individual freedom. It’s almost as if women have been reincarnated into different beings after performing the last sacrifice of their prior identities.

As a result of these women’s sense of self, their new found identity can be understood as a way of creating a new space within the folds of the Hindu religious doctrine. It is truly extraordinary to see how these women courageously defy traditional gender norms, and carry a will force to raise themselves to the level of their male ascetic counterparts.

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Drawn Space // Vishwa Shroff // TARQ

Vishwa Shroff’s latest exhibition at TARQ entitled “Drawn Space” — her first major solo show at the gallery — explores a dynamic way of rendering architectural images that include spatial elements of elevation, plan, and perspective. Curated by London based writer Charlie Levine, the exhibition displays four series of works by the artist, through which she embraces the concept of space as the fundamental focus of her work. The artworks project a spatial playfulness, oscillating between the inside and outside, further enabling the audience to grasp characteristics of urban phenomena.

Watercolour, Acrylic and acrylic medium
on archival paper
8.25 x 10.5 inches


Geometrically poetic, with a meticulous attention to detail, Shroff’s works imbue the mundane with meaning. In her series of drawings entitled ‘Transitions’, she mimics the floor of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) with the use of  watercolours. Each drawing has perfectly straight edges along with beautiful lines which are clean, precise, and dynamic. Placed in a chronological order, the visually serene artworks resemble a mosaic with a fusion of geometric patterns blended with earthy tones. The drawings allow the viewer to step in a location, much different from the gallery space, thereby constantly keeping the audience engaged.

Watercolour, Acrylic and acrylic medium
on archival paper
8.25 x 10.5 inches

For the artist the notion of space is something which, is constantly subject to change, unable to ever achieve a sense of equilibrium. Shroff confronts the audience with the understanding that any given space goes through a cyclic process of wear, tear, and rejuvenation..or at times left unaltered. Shroff’s practice — lodged between architecture and urbanism, pushes the viewer to go beyond the intricate details of her work. For instance, in a few of her works, there are certain areas where the colours appear to be fading away, implying that the works themselves are also in an ongoing state of transition. Therefore, through her practice, Vishwa makes a strong point  — that architecture is as much about feeling as it is about seeing.

Party Wall
Watercolour, Acrylic and ink on Paper,
Aluminium sheet


Vishwa’s fascination with space can also be seen in her work involving the partisan or “party wall” (a common wall that is shared by two adjoining houses) where she throws light on the voidness of space. By beautifully capturing the ordinary on paper, the artist elevates the mundane into art. However uneventful partisan walls may be perceived as, the notion of sharing a common wall which could perhaps belong to two completely unrelated families in a way, forms a connection between the two parties. The artist has also employed faded colours of yellow and blue to her works to perhaps indicate a sense of loss and emptiness. Moreover, through the artworks, understanding architecture as space prompts the viewers to visualise the experience of a built environment, spatial boundaries, and connections.


Completely different in effect, are a range of monochromatic large-scale drawings done as part of her Corridor series which allow the audience to step into a world solely conceptualised by the artist. Within each work, the audience gets a view of voluminous form, towering lines, along with dramatic patterns. The sharp dimensions made by the artist in each work invites the viewer to locate her or himself in the space, ultimately resulting in a conversation built between the audience, the gallery space, and the space within each drawing. Through this, we understand that architectural space symbolises the coherence between the interior as well as the exterior of buildings.



Postulating Premises’, a series that is accompanied by a photo-book, offers a remarkable window into the designer’s mind at work. Through using drawing as her medium, the artist has overcome the challenge of achieving spatial complexity, while keeping in mind principles of minimalism and simplicity. Inspired by the concept of cut out paper doll houses, Vishwa has created a series of architectural blueprints, keeping the furniture present inside the houses on a separate wall. Perhaps the purpose of doing so was to let the audience themselves visually arrange and conceptualise the placement of the furniture in desired areas of the floor map. Additionally, a  human figure has deliberately not been placed. Reason for that being  that the mind of the viewer should be freed from solely having to focus on the figurine, further trying to decipher what has been presented. As a result, the process  initiates a dynamic and active mode of interaction that goes beyond mere observation.

Eames House
Watercolour, Acrylic and acrylic medium on archival paper
installation dimensions variable
Photo: Courtesy of TARQ

The fact that the show has been executed with clarity, along with keeping in mind a common theme, is what truly makes it successful. Each individual collection complements the other, thereby producing a visual balance for the  gallery visitor. Perhaps, as a part of her Transitions series, the artist could have added a floor map of the Victoria and Albert Museum as an aid to help the audience get a better understanding of the artist’s work.  Nevertheless, Vishwa Shroff has indeed created a spatial experience, which is dynamic, not relying on what has been constructed, instead focusing on what is not constructed — space.

Photo Courtesy: Stuti Kakar (writer)

Time & Tide // Karan Kapoor // TARQ

Andheri, Bombay; Silver gelatin print; 1981© Karan Kapoor.

In collaboration with Tasveer, Tarq gallery in Mumbai hosts an exhibition “Time & Tide” by renowned London based photographer Karan Kapoor. Debuting with his first exhibition in India, the photographer pays tribute to the dying Anglo-Indian identity in Calcutta and Bombay, and the Catholic community in Portuguese Goa during the 1980s. Born to Anglo-Indian parents himself, Kapoor’s work is more than just an effort to induce nostalgia, further tracing how overtime these communities continue to survive in a considerably different social milieu and number today. The photo exhibition captures a series of rare, personal memories combined to tell an extraordinary tale.

An outcome of the colonial legacy in India, the term Anglo-Indian refers to the children born out of intermarriages between Britishers and Indians. However, by the time colonial rule had come to an end, the Anglo-Indian identity had become stigmatised. Soon, names like “half-castes” and “blacky-whites” become synonymous with their identity. Thereafter, left with a distinctive culture which was neither British nor Indian, the Anglo-Indian culture started to fade into oblivion.

The remarkable breadth of the exhibition features 45 monochromatic photographs done over a period of 12-13 years. The photographs are produced in silver gelatin prints and portray a distinct presence of a fast disappearing community. The first half of the exhibition is devoted to Kapoor’s interaction with the older generation of Anglo-Indians who resided at one of the premier country clubs of India – The Tollygunge Club in Kolkata (Calcutta). Kapoor writes, ”I was more interested in the older generation as they seemed to be the last remaining remnants of the British Raj – people who remembered the railway cantonments, the Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contests, the ‘Central Provinces’, and so on, a world long gone.”

Mr Carpenter, Tollygunge, Calcutta (1981). Photograph by Karan Kapoor

Kapoor’s subjects are iconic in their own way. There is a subtle, yet an affective quality to Kapoor’s black-and-white study of what appears as ordinary portraits. That is certainly true of Kapoor’s image of an old Anglo-Indian couple titled “Mr and Mrs Carpenter”. The image shows an elderly man playing an instrument which seems to be a banjo. Jazz was played quite frequently during the British Raj at Calcutta’s clubs and hotels. The musicians who performed at such elite institutions tended to include members from the Anglo-Indian community. Perhaps the banjo could symbolise the passing down of western instruments to the generations of a post-independent India.

Lovers Lane, Byculla, Bombay #2; Silver gelatin print; 1982 © Karan Kapoor.

Each of Kapoor’s protagonists are mostly framed in a threshold space, a verandah, or a window, a point of link between the domestic and public space. While each picture strikes a different emotional note, so does each facial expression, offering a unique insight to the photograph. Some shots evoke laughter, some melancholia, the collection has something for everyone. In a partly candid party staged photograph titled “Lovers Lane”, Kapoor captures a middle aged man gazing upwards as though he is blending his historic past and living imagination, weaving a thread of stories to tell the photographer. Kapoor’s photographs seem to be defined by a liminal moment, where the subjects are caught in-between an Anglo-Indian identity of a collective imagination and a transforming identity of the 21st century.

The second half of the photo series documents the radically changed social landscape of Portuguese Goa. The photographs let the viewer move along the sands of time, identifying a commonality in all the photographs — vestiges of a glorious past in Goa. The audience gets a glimpse of some of the ritualistic traditions of the Goan Catholic community through images of young boys dressing up for a church fete, musicians performing at a local feast, a bride wearing a traditional Goan Catholic wedding dress.

Rachol Seminary, Goa #3; Silver gelatin print; 1994 © Karan Kapoor.

Emiliano’s House, Loutolim, Goa #2;
Silver gelatin print; 1994 © Karan Kapoor

Currently, Baga beach in present day Goa is a much known haven for hippies and travellers. However, the Baga beach through Kapoor’s lens shows a troupe of fishermen dressed in traditional loincloth casting the net as the only human presence on the secluded beach. Kapoor’s photographs of Goa can be perceived as an effort to hold on to a piece of his past. “Nobody knew things were going to change so much in Goa, but for, instance, the picture of the fishing boat coming in, that no longer happens. That part of my village no longer has fishermen. They’re taxi-drivers, work with tourist operators, they work in shacks.”

Joseph fixing a net on our verandah, Goa;
Silver gelatin print; 1981 © Karan Kapoor.

Baga Beach, Goa #3; Silver gelatin print; 1982 © Karan Kapoor.

Unlike the Anglo-Indian community which is fading into history, the Goan Catholics are not a dwindling community yet. However what is fading are old ways of living. From the exterior facade of the ancestral Portuguese Goan homes, to the exquisite rosewood furniture, to well preserved dining rooms which boast of a spectacular collection of blue china ceramics, all are till date kept alive by the inheritors and the local Goans themselves. Even though the vintage architecture represents a beautiful melange of Indo-Portuguese History, the Goa reminisced by the photographer is a heterogenous culture before it became a commercialised tourist destination.

A series capturing a time travel through portraits of Anglo-Indian and Goan Catholic communities, the exhibition truly exposes an intensely personal relationship between the person behind as well in front of the camera. Kapoor, who photographed his birth community, took a dual risk — he could have either distanced himself too much becoming an absolute outsider, or got involved too much, getting caught in an emotional web. However, Kapoor worked his way around by maintaining a healthy distance, thereby counter-balancing the ethnographic gaze : portraying the subjects as active participants living in a social landscape of a transformed Bombay, through everyday social interactions. Moreover, Kapoor’s show promises to highlight the fact that dwindling communities in India are very much a part of the nation’s collective past, and must not be overshadowed.

Photo courtesy: Tasveer

Zones of Privacy | Books as Art Objects | Chatterjee & Lal

Could a book be viewed as an art object, or simply as a series of photographic reproductions? Contemporary artists in India continue to use a diverse vocabulary of abstract forms to convey their ideas. As a result of which, they have understood the potential of the book to go beyond than just an act of displaying information. In this light, Zones of Privacy, an exhibition curated by Rukminee Guha Thakurta brings forth a platform where books meet art, in ways unimagined. The exhibition showcases the works of 27 artists who have engaged with the book form idiosyncratically, allowing the audience to dive into the private lives of the creators themselves.

On display is an assorted collection of sketchbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, and photo-books assembled next to each other on various tables. The viewer has the luxury of sitting down and browsing through each individual book, navigating her or his way into the artist’s contours of thought. From the artist’s point of view, they become totally vulnerable by creating work so raw and poignant, evoking emotions in others who read their books. The series of books exhibited reveal to what extent the artist wants the consumer to consume him or her, that is to say how many of the artist’s personal thoughts and memories should be put out in the open as viewing objects for a third person to scrutinise.

As the visitor uses latex gloves to delicately turn each page of each book, the reader is invited to step into the private zone of the author. As a result, a deep intimate bond is created between the reader and the book. Each book deals with a different subject – exploring themes of love, lust, humour, happiness, and melancholia. Furthermore, along with various themes the form of the book — its colour, shape, size, cover page, style of binding, and material of pages – all generate an experience of great anticipation for the reader. These small details must be paid attention to, because they form an integral part of the book, being in sync with the type of story the book entails.

Artists whose works are exhibited include Sohrab Hura, Priya Kuriyan, Prashant Miranda, Dayanita Singh, Chaitanya Solanki, Nityan Unnikrishnan, and Nida Ghouse among others. Some finds are truly fascinating, Chaitanya Solanki created a small personal journal titled “Ascension”, which is an ode to dying animals that society abandons. The book captures the last few moments of a few animals in urban landscapes. Upon viewing the book, the audience engages with the artist’s passing thoughts, further getting an understanding of how the artist feels for the millions of animals  on the streets who are treated as non-living entities, yet they aren’t so.


Other artists too dealt with darker thoughts, such as Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura. “There’s a lot of suffering in this house”, the photographer provides the reader with an uncomfortable personal detail with the opening line of his photo journal. Hura documents his relationship with his mother, who was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia in the year 1999. Through his photography, he speaks of how his mother was not the “regular” mother. “Our initial years were spent hiding from the world,” he writes. “Hers out of paranoia, and mine out of embarrassment and anger towards who she had become.” His dog named Elsa can be found in many of the photographs, who is constantly  seen with drooping ears, as though the depressive state of his mother has affected the dog. Hura is brutally honest with his experiences at home, revealing a transparent truth to the reader.

In contrast, Rohit Saha’s works explore themes of love through the medium of photography. The photo-journal reflects an on-going story about two lovers and how their relationship is lodged between uncertainties of space and time. Further, the journal traces how their love blossomed despite being in two different cities. Upon waiting for months, yearning for each other’s touch, they would meet in hotel rooms. The cover page beautifully ends in a quote, “Departures were inevitable and replete with raises for another tomorrow.”


Among the books exhibited, a thick grey and white photo journal entitled “Seeking Moksha” holds Nishant Shukla’s encounter with pilgrims and spiritual seekers, all of whom who are in a constant search for moksha (liberation). The journal describes the photographer’s journey to the Himalayas over six years, where he fantasised about spending his life in solitary living in the midst of serene mountains.

Besides leaving a lasting impression upon the viewers, Zones of Privacy has provoked some unexpected and surprising conclusions regarding what actually comprises a book. However, some people in the audience might not have an overly positive response to this show. They might argue that the current generation is so used to reading on smart screens, they might not yearn for the smell and texture of old paper, or for that matter might complain about the long hours spent on examining each book carefully. Therefore the potential of such an exhibition to occur again might  come along with its own set of disadvantages. Nevertheless, a question which perhaps might puzzle the audience upon exiting the doors of Chatterjee & Lal is —  which category must a book be put in? The art category or book category?