2017 UMRAO SINGH SHER-GIL GRANT FOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Grant recipient: Ashish Sahoo

Artist Statement

For centuries, the Indian subcontinent has hosted a rich oral and visual tradition — from the Bhats and Charans reciting the lores and lessons of Ramayana to the grace and grooves of folk dances and performance. My projects revolve around retelling of mythological narratives from a contemporary perspective, where I consciously choose to work with Ambrotypes and silver gelatin prints. By making this choice, I not only revisit the socio-cultural past but also bridge the past with the present. In this project, I’ve been collaborating with two groups — theatre actors for the Ambrotype plates and chhau dancers for the silver gelatin prints.

A unique medley of these traditions comes in the form of Purulia Chhau Dance, where the rhythmic movements depict an intricate narrative of Ramayana. Chhau, an abstraction from Sanskrit root of Chhaya (shadow, masked) or Chhadm (disguise) is an elaborative dance from regions of West Bengal, with stylistic differences in Odisha and Jharkhand as well.

Keeping the egalitarian spirit of social harmony, Chhau Dance performances are witnessed by various socio-economic masses, each social collective being enriched with what they are experiencing, rather than merely seeing. Though traditionally an all-male performance, my art project takes into account the nuances of characters and include both male and female performers, for the roles of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Ravana.

Much like the oral traditions of Ramayana which took on local flavors and nuances of the tellers, my project is also planned as a series of 25 glass plates in an open for interpretation narrative. These glass plates intend to reframe many narratives while commenting upon existing notions. The narrative or the myth of Ramayana was historically disseminated primarily through oral traditions and secondarily through performative acts. Socially all these performative acts; in forms of street or stage plays has been an integral part of our cultural milieu. The performer in such acts whether in real or reel space has the power and potential to transform the identity of the familiar character. Along with the different existing documented narratives of Ramayana, this physical transformation while acting also plays an important role with the dialogue, thus such varied gesticulations are framed in the process. The barebones of the epic lay upon countenance, wherein the viewer, i.e. you, are free to weave in the tapestry in rich detail as you desire and comprehend. The performers will create an expressionist skeleton through pose and masks, which will enable the viewer to further enrich the story as their interpretations.

My project focusses on an early 18th century photography process called Ambrotype as well as silver gelatin prints. Ambrotype is made through a wet plate process where the image is captured on glass. These pictures are taken on a large format camera where you first have to coat a glass piece of specific size with a photographic collodion solution and then put it inside a silver nitrate bath to sensitise it. Thereafter, you take the picture on it by loading it with the camera through a plate holder.My love for this process has also transcended into film photography, where I seek reiterative control to provide well-crafted and unique visual perspectives rather than static frames. The idea is not to simply have an Archimedean spiral for your eye but rather hold your hand, dear viewer, and commence a storytelling both epic in its scale and personal in its relevance.

My love for this process has also transcended into film photography, where I seek reiterative control to provide well-crafted and unique visual perspectives rather than static frames. The idea is not to simply have an Archimedean spiral for your eye but rather hold your hand, dear viewer, and commence a storytelling both epic in its scale and personal in its relevance.

Thus, the project encompasses a nationally and continentally told narrative in a tribal performative context for the pleasure of a personal as well as cultural diaspora, where be it by pose or by prose, you relive the story within yourself.

I have already collaborated with some theatre actors and dancers with whom I had taken some test shots and started the first part of the project. The process involved in this project needs a lot of time and money as I will be shooting glass plates which require financial expenditure to produce the Ambrotypes as well as the silver gelatin prints in a dark room. This project is divided with two parts wherein the first part I will be making Ambrotypes and in the second part I will be making silver gelatin prints. Since, I have started the shooting for both the processes and to further complete this process, I need help through this grant.

STATEMENT BY THE JURY