It’s like stepping into a time capsule where versions of the past are engaged in a commentary-dialogue with interpretations of the present. The versions are of the Mahatma and his way of life, and the interpretations are by various artists, literary artists, designers and architects. Santati, an exhibition commemorating 150 years of the life, legend and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is being hosted at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai.
Unraveling over various levels of the NGMA, the exhibit is immersive, to say the least. From art and light to photography, textile, reprints and even poetry, the unravelling of Santati, as you progress from one floor to the next is at once unpredictable and engrossing. I totally understand and couldn’t agree more with curator Lavina Baldota as she says, “Santati for me is a limitless canvas of introspection and self-discovery. Woven by yarns of ethos derived from Gandhian influence rendered with the hues of my most intrinsic emotions, especially love and pride for my roots, my country, its leaders, artists, artisans, aesthetics and its rich heritage.”
The first mezzanine level elicits an almost breathless pause, as you stop and stare at the moulded fabric installation by couturier Gaurav Gupta. Inspired by the sound of the Mahatma’s perfect heartbeat, Gaurav combines the infinite quality of the former’s ideology of ‘my life is my message’ with the rhythm of his heart and the fluid, unidimensional flow of khadi. And then comes the ‘Shanti Totem’, with its handcrafted channapatna beads and well-composed height of 1.64m, symbolic of the Father’s physical form.
Moving on, the NGMA has lined up selected photographs by Kulwant Roy from their own permanent collection, celebrating the Mahatma’s life, his comrades, his contemporaries, his actions and pastimes — some of them so telling in their absolute candidness. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Jawaharlal Nehru, MA Jinnah, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Sardar Patel are some of the other faces you’ll see in these photographs and broken negatives.
As you move to the next level, a three-dimensional mid-century installation by Klove Studio highlights ahimsa (non-violence), in a most mysterious way using optical illusion, spatial play, rock salt and delicate illuminations. Gandhi’s powerful belief, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world,” is the central point of this creation. Embroiderer Jean François Lesage’s hand-embroidered letters by the Mahatma touch an emotional chord as you are taken back to a time of strife and fervour.
“India must protect her primary industries even as a mother protects her children against the whole world without being hostile to it,” said Mahatma Gandhi in his time, and no words hold truer today, considering the state our handloom industry is in today. Sure enough, while handweaving is considered a dying craft, textile designer Gaurang Shah highlights the potency of khadi and jamdani fabrics from their loom to luxury stages. This unprecedented installation brings into the stark spotlight our dwindling indigenous craft and craves out its rich possibilities in our consciousness.
A special mention deserves to be given to the collection of Raja Ravi Verma’s reprints and lithographs on display, highlighting the fact that he painted on canvases made of jute. Classics like Lady in Moon Light and Portrait of a Lady make you want to stand and soak it all in. And that’s the winning aspect of an exhibition like this one, whether it is designer Rajesh Pratap Singh’s installation on one of the landings, or poet Navkirat Sodhi’s experiential verse, or even the Mahatma’s quotes inscribed along the walkways and wall-scapes, the strong subtle messages of urgency and preservation make you believe and keep the faith in the intentions and effort of those visionaries who made our present day possible.
Santati is on at the NGMA, Mumbai, until November 15, 2019. Go see…and feel!