sss ~ Interview
by Godrej Culture Lab, Vikhroli, Mumbai
> What will be the focus of your talk; what will be the highlights?
SITE : STAGE : STRUCTURE is an archival project based within and around the geographical location of Mazgaon and Wadibunder. It is a Transmedia installation integrating books, photographs, video documentation, audio narratives and heritage walks as a way of revitalizing memories and telling a history that is absent from the formal narratives.
The highlight of the exhibition are the paintings, each presenting an important aspect of the city's history and heritage; as well as photobooks of Mazgaon that document the changing demographic and visual identity of the space. The project maps Mathar Pacady, the remnants of Chinatown, a Bohri family’s apartment and Darukhana where ships are brought to be torn apart on the dry dock. Here I fight nostalgia by documenting it, recreating it through videos, conversations and staging ethnographic reconstructions of people’s homes.
> Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I make contemporary art, films, books, collaborate with robotic engineers, computer programmers, musicians, writers, theatre and film makers and aim to found processes that would leave deep impacts on contemporary culture, technology and knowledge.
Some of the mundane activities that I have been a part of are 'Ballad of the War that Never Was, and other Bastardised Myths', a solo exhibition of drawings, paintings and digital works, held at Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai in 2011; as well as recent group exhibitions at Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai; Art Heritage, New Delhi; and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai
> What is the importance of memories especially in an urban set-up?
The Project is a focused attempt to document the history and the present conditions of the people of Mazgaon. They contribute to the city’s self-knowledge as a place with a conflicted and tangled cosmopolitan past. Such projects enrich Mumbai’s art scene by offering something other than aesthetic wall-hangings and floor pieces, or theory-laden group shows. In an era in which rightwing groups continue to insist on Mumbai narrowly as a Hindu Marathi city, counter-historical practices like Site : Stage : Structure serve much more than ethnographic curiosity.
> Do memories matter today; how are they relevant at a time when things are changing very fast?
Memories matter in any day and age – I believe in the saying, “Those who forget history, are bound to repeat it”. In the context of the city and its people, the easiest thing would be to forget people who live beyond the perimeter of our immediate vision, but in doing so we condemn ourselves to be forgotten by others.
How many of us know the basic history of Bombay? Does it matter? Does it matter whether we knew or not what happened? How important is it to know that Bombay Docks started in 1735 or that Tarla House became J.J. hospital or that a structure such as Hasanabad exists, or the story of Pine building. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. But what is important is that there is a sense of identity that we’re losing and that reflects in the way we live; it reflects in how we conduct ourselves; and it is reflecting in the way Mazgaon is changing. The experience of Mazgaon changing through time and space is what is seen in the exhibition.
> How can art/urban planning/science help preserve memories?
Each aspect of the current exhibition can be extrapolated into a substantial body of work. At the same time this existing body of work needs to be disseminated beyond Bombay because it’s not the story of Bombay in itself, or the way Mazgaon has changed. Mazgaon is exemplary of the way several spaces/places in the country and the world are changing – silently, and without our knowing about it. It is like a falling teacup that we don’t see till it shatters. Fortunately Mazgaon and other places like that haven’t shattered yet. But they’re falling. It is up to us how soon we can look at them and how soon we can arrest that fall.
> How can the younger generations be motivated towards preserving memories?
Some of the most interesting responses to my work have been of people who have identified with the work and start sharing and talking about similar experiences within their own communities, families and friend circles. Slowly, people realise that not only can documentation be presented as ‘Art’, but that all kinds of memory can be important and valuable in the correct context.
I feel that the younger generations are increasingly aware of the importance of documentation. Our generation has produced more images in the last 10 years, than in the last 150 years combined. The focus will slowly move to being able to comprehensively understand what it is that we are documenting.
> What are you working on presently and looking forward to?
SITE : STAGE : STRUCTURE is an ongoing project. Slowly over a period of two years, it has developed through conversations with the local communities and groups. In the next phase of work, I want to focus on the present conditions and issues surrounding the people – property issues, entanglements with the political-builder nexus, issues of preservation and heritage, and developing awareness for the rich culture that exists in the forgotten backyard of the city.
As an ongoing project, I am currently seeking alliances and grants to make more than one copy of each book, which are 17 accordion fold books ranging from 20 to 40 pages, archiving the length and breadth of Mazgaon; and a set of 4 books, each focusing on a specific area of Mazgaon such as the soon-to-be-redeveloped 150 year old Dry Dock of Mumbai; the only Chinese Temple in Mumbai; and MatharPacady, a 300 year old Catholic 'village' surrounded by a political nexus and a dominating builder lobby.
I am interested in collaborative work environments and constantly looking for interested photographers, filmmakers and documentation artists to collaborate on future work and projects.