Curated by Rahaab Allana
Showcasing works by: Aamina Nizar; Arfun Ahmed; Arpan Mukherjee; Aung Myat Htay; Basir Mahmood; Bay Bay; Bijon Sarker; Bunu Dhungana; Debashish Chakrabarty; Dr. Noazesh Ahmed; Gayatri Ganju; Habiba Nowrose; Homai Vyarawalla; Hetain Patel; Irina Giri, Keepa Maskey and Sonam Choekyi; Ismeth Raheem; Jagadish Upadhya; Kaamna Patel; Karthik Dondetti and Ashwin Iyer; Komail Naqvi; Kristina Chan and Rahul Nadkarni; Krithika Sriram; Lionel Wendt; Madan Mahatta; Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II; Mayco Naing; Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury; Naib Uddin Ahmed; Natasha Raheja and Vijayanka Nair; Payal Kapadia; Pramod Pati; Pranay Dutta; Priyanka Dasgupta and Chad Marshall; Ravikumar Kashi; Rupesh Man Singh; S. L. Parasher; S. N. S. Sastry; Sadia Marium; Sai Htin Linn Htet; Sangita Maity; Sanjeev Maharjan; Seher Shah; Sheikh Mohamed Ishaq; Shimul Saha; Shivani Gupta; Somnath Hore; Souvik Majumdar; Subash Thebe; Sunil Janah; Supranav Dash; Tahia Farhin Haque; Tara Jauhar; The Packet; Tina Modotti; Venkatesh Shirodkar; Vishwajyoti Ghosh; Walter Bosshard; Wonder Wang; Zishaan Akbar Latif
Photography is a free, independent art. It must not be subjected
to alien, antiquated laws, nor should it be enslaved to nature.
– Werner Graff
The Serendipity Arts Festival, supported by the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts presented the exhibition Look, Stranger! which took the form of an extended dialogue between the shadow lines of lens-based practices, influenced by the technological ethos of the turn of the last century into the current one. The still photograph evolved into the moving image and created new optical dimensions that were open to creative exploration. Photography rapidly became the fulcrum of new image discourses and cultures, and was now embedded at the heart of the contemporary digital knowledge economy, merging the sequential experience of time and space into synchronicity. By encoding new pathways and spaces through infinite regress and replication, the pivotal fusion of film and photography is a prime example of how, within exponential media growth, art and technology have become essential to each other’s evolution.
Affiliation, Alienation, Emplacement and the Otherworldly are the broad symbiotic themes arrived at following recent research and studio visits in South Asia, that underscored the curatorial schematic of this exhibition. Drawing an arc of inquiry from the paradigmatic Film und Foto (Fifo) display in Stuttgart, Germany in 1929, now 90 years ago, to experimental contemporary photography from South Asia, the display tried to identify concerns around the persistence of certain modernist historical trajectories. What are the deeper resonances of Fifo’s core philosophy that melded Bauhaus design and 1920’s New Vision aesthetic philosophy at the time of a rapidly growing socialist trend narrated via the Workers Photography Movement? What formal concepts around the picture-plane were breached by the 19th-century photo-secessionists, leading to modernist ideas and interventions? Can the spectral imprints of those revolutionary paradigms be consistently traced within our current innovations?
In The Waterless Sea: A Curious History of Mirages (2018), visual anthropologist Christopher Pinney identified phases in cultural history when literary imagination had intuitively accompanied the artistic delineation of ‘space’. This exhibition was a similar exploration of environments, some real and others illusory, and was marked by an irrepressible hybridity, a fusion of forms/formats. One may be reminded of early-20th-century artists who realised that the granular distortions of Cubism could only be fully grasped only through a renunciation of classical perspective, and that this stepping away from convention transformed the experience of the tangible world. The lens-based works featured in this exhibition tried to posit similar questions about our ongoing, unresisting imbrication within multiple viewpoints in multiple media, and serve as prisms to think freely around transnational creative energies that manifest a persistent interdisciplinarity.
The words from ‘Look, Stranger!’, W.H. Auden’s evocative poem awakens a sense of simultaneous estrangement and immersion, loss and retrieval, dissociation and elision – all in natural, active play when one literally or metaphorically leaves the shores of one’s homeland or the door of one’s home. For artists, the rites of aesthetic departure and arrival are a complex catalyst for the metamorphosis of both selfhood and practice. And like the Arabian Sea that could be seen just beyond the topography of the installed exhibition, the works on display may also be read as a shifting constant, one that urges viewers to reflect upon what lies within sight or may lie beyond the image horizon, enigmatically seducing and eluding the eye.