The man lies rigid on a bed. Or is it a bench? There is no mattress on the bed/bench, but there’s a pillow under his head and another, flatter and smaller one, under his feet. The sheet covering him is too small and his feet stick out. The lights above the bed/bench cast sickly grey shadows on the walls, that appear to hover over the man. Are the shadows angels of death, I wonder?
The information given along with the above artwork says that Brown (b.1923) is an African-American who grew up poor in the religious, rural and segregated South of the United States and worked in menial jobs. Brown started painting when he realised that he had no visuals from his childhood to share with his children. An untrained artist, Brown painted from his childhood memories on rough wooden boards or planks. After Brown’s wife died and his children left home, he withdrew from society at large and preferred to communicate with the outside world only through his paintings.
As I read this information, I realise that I have just been introduced an unknown and new genre of art (for me, that is) — “Outsider Art” — and one that sounds exciting ! But what exactly is this Outsider Art? A walk through the exhibition acquaints me with this genre and how it has developed over the years.
In India, popular perception in religious art largely spread through calendars, posters and periodicals. These colourful works of art were important in reinforcing images that we instantly recognise today. For instance, if we were to try to imagine Rama’s coronation in Ayodhya, it would be something like this — Rama and Sita seated on the royal throne with Hanuman bowing at their feet. Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna are in attendance, as is the Vanar king Sugreeva. The royal priest, Vashishta, is busy conducting the ceremony.
It is a gloriously celebratory image, but uni dimensional, and oh-so-safe-and-recognisable, if you know what I mean. And frankly, quite boring as the expressions on all the faces are fixed and beatific.
But then, sometimes, one comes across depictions that shakes you out of the boredom and makes you look at the same thing all over again, but with delight this time.
I came across two artifacts/tableaus on Rama’s coronation at at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Though both were instantly recognisable for what they depicted, they had more than an element of surprise on offer. Here is the first one:
It is Ganeshotsav or Ganpati time in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra and . And depending on how one looks at it, this is a time for holidays, modaks, new beginnings, traffic jams, crowded market places, laddoos, discounts, devotion… For me, it is an explosion of creativity.
From the time Bal Gangadhar Tilak turned the annual family level Ganeshotsav to a community level event in 1893, Lord Ganesha became everyone’s favourite deity. This also meant that, over the decades, the Ganpati idols got more creative with each passing year and the Ganesh pandals became opportunities to highlight social issues, or creative talent in presenting Ganeshas made from ice, different types of grasses or cereals, vegetables, fruits, papier-mache, etc.
It is not just Ganpati Pandals that get creative; shopping malls and departmental stores get into the act too. It was at a well-known departmental store that I saw one of the most unusual and creative Ganpati idols last year.
A photograph has picked up a fact of life and that fact will live forever.
With these words, distinguished photographer Raghu Rai drew the audience right into the heart of the magical world of photography.
Not that he really needed to considering that the select audience comprised professional and amateur photographers, and also photography enthusiasts like me who had been specially invited by Google+ to commemorate World Photography Day at the Tote on the Turf restaurant in Mumbai.
Raghu Rai delivered the Keynote Address at the event and it was one where he spoke of his own journey as a photographer and shared experiences and anecdotes on developments in the field of photography and transitions over the years; how he never touched a film camera after getting introduced to a digital camera; how he was introduced to Google and its various features by his daughter, and much more. He also engaged with the audience and answered their questions. I particularly liked his response to a question on how to choose a mentor. His answer: “Your conscience is the best mentor you can ever have.”
The moment I enter St. Thomas’ Cathedral in the Fort area of Mumbai, I am transported to England. Everything about the Cathedral from the cool white-washed interiors to the simple wooden pews to its polished brass memorials and wall plaques, and its many stained glass windows reminds me of the Anglican churches of England.
St. Thomas’ Cathedral is the first Anglican church in Mumbai and is also believed to to the oldest British building in this city. Though construction of the Cathedral of St. Thomas began in 1676, it was abandoned and remained neglected for nearly 40 years, when it was “adopted by an East India Company Chaplain in 1710. It was opened for worship as a church on Christmas Day in 1718″ (for details click here). St. Thomas’ was consecrated as a cathedral in 1837 and was selected for the UNESCO Asia-Pacific heritage conservation award 2004.
I love stained glass windows and spend quite a while admiring the many windows in the Cathedral. But the one window that completely captivates me is one that I almost missed. It is to one side and in a niche: a stained glass window of St. Thomas, flanked by two archangelsSt. Michael and St. Gabriel in a single frame.
The stained glass window at the St. Thomas Cathedral, Mumbai. From L to R St. Gabriel, St. Thomas and St. Michael
In a fenced enclosure outside the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (formerly known as Victoria & Albert Museum) at the Jijamata Udyaan (formerly known as Victoria Garden) in Mumbai, is an Elephant. Not a flesh and blood elephant, mind you, but a stone elephant with a long and interesting history to share.
Carved in the 6th century from a single piece of rock at one of the many entrances to the island known as Gharpuri, the Elephant saw many a king come and go for over a 1000 years. Then one day, in early 16th century, the Elephant saw the first European colonisers — the Portuguese — to the region. The Portuguese were so awed by him that they promptly named the Gharpuri after him — the Elephanta Island, a name it has been known as since then.
When the Portuguese relinquished their rights over the region to the British 150 years later, the Elephant was witness to this as well. The new colonisers were also impressed and awed with him. In fact, the English were so impressed with the Elephant, that they wanted to take him home to England. But this was no easy task and it took them nearly 200 years to put their wish in action.
On a sunny day in 1864, a crane was brought to the Island to lift the Elephant from his rocky home and transport him to ship that would then take him to a new home at a museum in England. This was no easy task and the local people and the English Officers directing this operation watched with bated breath as the crane huffed and puffed, and finally managed to lift the Elephant.
And as the arm of the crane swung around with its elephantine cargo, disaster struck. The crane snapped sending the Elephant crashing down and breaking him into pieces.