November 12, 2012

Maimouna Guerresi: Architechure of Faces


Vogue India fashion editorial

Before I discovered the world of fashion blogs, my relationship with fashion magazines was admittedly quite different: I initially bought fashion magazines by the dozen although I now ruefully admit that there were very few trends that I channeled or could channel and rarely purchased products suggested by them. Similarly, while I very much enjoyed looking at the fashion editorials, I could never quite appreciate how it would translate into every-day wearability for well...ordinary mortals such as me;) I increasingly perceived fashion as an elitist space when located between pages of these magazines, admission only granted if you had primed yourself about the brands or designers or personalities...rather than savoring the simple, unadulterated joy of putting an outfit together. For me, the moot point was about having fun with your clothes -  fashion is not synonymous with possessing 'It' bag or slavish allegiance to catwalks or being too self-conscious about it. It's about enjoying the art of costuming yourself, performing your personality through the props of your clothing, accessories, and make-up. Once I discovered fashion blogs, which were more individual, quirky, and inspirational, the magazine stack on my bedside table became considerably smaller or instead dismembered and used for scrapbooking or making collages (never underestimate the power of collaging when it comes to destressing!)

Having ranted and now contradicting myself said all that, though, Verve is one magazine that I have been following for many years now; one of the things that I most appreciate about it is that it's an entirely home-grown Indian magazine brand, rather than international magazine franchises tailoring themselves to Indian markets, such as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Vogue, to name a few. This is not to say that the latter are doing a bad job (I particularly liked Marie Claire in its earlier years) but I have always been a champion of local endeavors and an entirely indigenous so go Verve! Verve has always been a monthly reading staple and apart from enjoying its wonderful writing, it's always been a pleasure to extend and cultivate my personal style sense by discovering new artists, artistes, authors, designers, and creative personalities through its issues.

I spotted the work of Italian artist,  Patrizia Ma├»mouna Guerresi, who works with photography, video, and sculpture, in her exhibition, 'Silent Dialogues' (brought by Tasveer Gallery and Tod's) in Verve's latest issue here:


Amina

In the interview, Maimouna describes the influence of Islam and its architecture in her photography and specifically, in 'Silent Dialogues', she says:

"...in my recent works, I am trying to concentrate on the highest and most exposed part of the body: the head. I cover and crown the head with a series of objects in the shape of hats/minarets which are made by hand in a ritualistic manner – with simple materials and pieces of fabric collected and then composed according to the Sufi Muslim tradition of manually producing their own clothes. The minaret hats are tall and narrow architectural forms that I then photograph. The models in my photographs sometimes hide their faces with a hand gesture, or are blindfolded, or simply have their eyes closed. They seem to detach themselves from the world in order to tune into the divine cosmic spirit."

( Verve, October 2012)

Blue Sangat (Triptych)
This is the sort of photography that makes you immediately stop in your tracks and makes you look look, your contemplations eventually precipitating a more meditative state. I found this confluence of photography, spirituality, and architecture really fascinating - I didn't find the posturing or posing at all stylised or deliberate in the photographs, the images appearing like vignettes from a dream instead. Interestingly enough, the image below is entitled 'Kalindi's Dream':

Kalindi's Dream

However, the more I engaged with these images, a series of curious realisations struck me. Would I choose to hang these images upon the walls of my home? Probably not. Would I choose to visit this exhibition again and again? Yes, I would. Would I change my mind about the former question in a couple of years? Quite possibly. Like our style sensibilities, our art inclinations too are in a state of constant flux and evolution...

If you want to know more about Guerresi's work, here's another interview...

November 10, 2012

Adieu...Yash Chopra


It's been days since Yash Chopra unexpectedly passed away and yet, I still continue to read tributes to one of Hindi cinema's most significant film-makers. For me, Chopra's cinema counted amongst my favorites, films such as Lamhe, Chandni, Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila having merited several watchings. While Chopra had been largely associated with his signature trademark of chiffons, Swiss Alps, and luxurious escapism*, I feel that one of the greatest qualities about his films and which many of his admirers have highlighted is how he depicted the textured nature of human relationships. Admittedly, he faltered in places, the representation sometimes being uneven and shallow... yet there was a powerfully identifiable element to the relationships and scenarios that he presented in his cinema, which was in deep contrast to the melodrama and excess that his contemporaries subscribed to.

I must admit that I was largely disappointed with Veer Zaara though and was not particularly looking forward to watching his swansong production, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (sorry SRK/Katrina fans!)...even though his romantic films located in a lavish, plushly padded world of spacious rooms, gleaming marble floors, blood-red rose petals, sprawling gardens, debonair men and elegant women, the backdrop nevertheless managed to remain just a backdrop, rather than overwhelming the film's protagonists and story-line. Veer Zaara was a magnificently appointed production yet I experienced a distinct lack of pathos in the narrative and Jab Tak Hai Jaan did not seem any more promising either.

His passing away has made all the difference though and I will now be curious to interpret his last cinematic thoughts...meanwhile, here are some notes on my personal favorites from Yash Chopra's stable:

i) Silsila...

I first watched Silsila during my university days, previously having only glimpsed it in bits and pieces on TV; since then, I have enjoyed re-watching it although I continue to remain hugely perplexed by its ending, which I felt was artificial and in complete dissonance with the film's overall tone. It is now but common knowledge that the original heroines for this movie were Smita Patil and Parveen Babi and they were replaced at the last minute by Jaya Bachchan and Rekha. Keeping the discussion strictly to reel, rather than real, life, apart from some great performances and scenes (Sanjeev Kumar was outstanding and made his presence felt inspite of the electric triad of Bachchan spouses and Rekha), Silsila also had a wonderful musical score. Till date, I can't help but remember the song, 'Dekha ek Khwab' whenever I see a tulip:) I also enjoyed 'Pehli Pehli Baar', which celebrated Bachchan and Rekha's incredible chemistry and 'Sar se Sarke', which is admittedly uber schmaltzy...and yet has been one of my favorite songs for years.




ii) Lamhe

I have written about Lamhe in an alternative context earlier; it's undoubtedly a film that I can repeatedly return to despite the fact that it is problematic on so many levels. A teenage girl, Pooja falling in love with a man, Viren who has harbored an unrequited passion for her mother, Pallavi for many years, the film has been touted as Chopra's most provocative venture. Nevertheless, what I like most about the film is the depiction of relationships: Viren's unarticulated feelings towards Pallavi, Viren's best friend, Prem's unstinting loyalty towards Viren, and Viren and Pooja's mirror-relationship with their mother-figure, Dai-ja are the notable relationships that Chopra fleshes out in detail. Yet, every time I watch the film, I can't help but think of the many other stories concealed within the frames and begging to be narrated: who exactly is Prem? What of Daija?

Surprisingly, even though I have watched the film countless number of times, I have never been such a fan of its sound-track; as a child though, I simply adored 'Morni' or 'Meri Bindiya' and must have listened to the tape endlessly. As an adult, the only song that really registers with me and encapsulates the essence of the film is the title track, 'Yeh Lamhe'



iii) Chandni

Chandni is a fluffier film in comparison to the ones above and yet, if you peel away the celluloid glossiness of Switzerland, wedding sangeets, Delhi languor and Bombay glamour, and ubiquitous chiffon saris, the film is full of stories of flawed characters, much like a family of cracked crystal figurines. The film is a little more shallow in comparison to the others...nevertheless, as a casual watch, though, it's pretty enjoyable as is fun musical score: the infectious 'Chandni O Meri Chandi', the haunting 'Tere Mere Honthon Pe', and the mother of wedding songs, 'Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Chudiyan' are undoubted classics.



iv) Kabhie Kabhie

Surprisingly, even though its title track is a long cherished one of mine (and millions of others!), I haven't watched this film too many times. In fact, I remember watching it alongside all of the films mentioned above as part of a Yash Chopra film marathon during university and while the above films certainly engaged me, I was rather disappointed with Kabhie Kabhie for sundry reasons. The reason why I am including it here is probably because I thought that the film made for an interesting exploration of the intimate relationship between writing/poetry and life. I especially liked Bachchan in his portrayal of a poet and when later having renounced his writing; his rendition of 'Kabhie Kabhie' is one of the most outstanding moments in  the film. Plus, having extensively written poetry during my childhood, I completely related to the sentiments of 'Main Pal do Pal'..but nothing beats the exquisite beauty of the title track sung by Mukesh...



 What is your favorite Yash Chopra movie?

*Yash Chopra showcased plenty of grit in movies such as 'Mashaal' and of course, the iconic 'Deewar' - I remember reading an article about the making of the film in 'Filmfare' when I was a teenager and shocked to learn that Chopra had directed it...so strongly had he become synonymous with all things beautiful and escapist!

October 5, 2012

October started with...


...me discovering a new dessert for the first time and other visual delights while battling an irritatingly nagging allergic cough. And what else of October? Summer still reigns supreme over here; days are sauna-warm, nights grudgingly acceding to the notion of imminent winter. Our mogra bush has shut up shop for the year yet the bougainvilleas still burn bright, incandescently: fuschia, vermillion, ivory. Sea-gulls and other sea-cousins mass along the beach shore, as if in strict regiment...and when I approach closer to them, they cluster in unspoken unison, gracefully ascend into the air, and survey the quivering lawn of the sea before settling upon a spot...and proceeding to placidly bob along its surface. 

Here are my October vignettes:

I ate...

Macaroons at the famous Parisian pastry shop, La Duree
Macaroons! As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am not as much a foodie as a dessert fan and in the last few months, I continually encountered references to macaroons, having clearly acquired the status as the new cupcakes. Actually, the very first time I chanced upon 'macaroons' was in a novel I read when I was in  elementary school; little else remains with me about the novel but I do recall the main characters sitting on the sidewalk in Brooklyn and eating macaroons out of a cardboard box. It's interesting how words lodge in your memory and till date, I associate macaroons with that childhood encounter. Well, work this week gave me a chance to actually taste macaroons after all these years and interview a macaroon chef. I had a chocolate ganache one and enjoyed it thoroughly...

I saw....

Sun Medallion, Eric Warner






....this image and the first association that leaped to my mind upon espying the fuschia palm-trees were: bougainvilleas. And nothing beyond that. There are certain images which strike you at a visceral level - and that's that. If hard-pressed, I can usually deconstruct and unjumble an image rather nicely; here, though, all that occurs to me to say is that it constitutes my three favorite colors: cerulean blue, white, and fuschia. And if given a choice, I would hang it upon a wall of blazing white and leave it there to...bake. Bake, you ask? Bake, as in flavors and qualities of the image rise and transform in conjunction with other images and objects in the room, making the picture an entirely different entity altogether from the one that first entered the room. Those are the kind of objects that I like when putting together a space, ones that gradually become a family without losing their individual entity. 

I discovered...

Hazel Cox

...jewelry by Hazel Cox - which this charming blog interview with the Portland, United States based designer describes as 'math in a hot dress.' Of late, the marriage between metal and fabric has been a constant source of intrigue for me and these earrings are no exception! They will instantly add statement to minimalist solid color-block outfits or add to the party of colors, patterns, and embellishments. In this particular case, I simply adored the minty fabric tassels along with dull metal - in one word: *want*!

How did you greet October?:)

September 27, 2012

Singing India: Karen Knorr's Photography


As September inches towards its end, I hope it treated you well. In our part of the world, the passage of seasons is indiscernible to the point that we are still experiencing flashbacks of the hot summer! My theory (and probably of most living in the Gulf;): summer ain't over until the AC is finally switched off:) Meanwhile, in more temperate climates, the leaves have begun to turn the colors of fire or falling, piling up on the sidewalks and street corners - and the crunchy crispness in the air allied with the startlingly bright blue skies makes for a stunning combination. (Yes, clearly, someone's getting nostalgic for autumn...or fall, if you please:)

For me, September was all about visual pickings and one of my lovely finds was British photographer, Karen Knorr's work via this image below:

Queen's Room, Zanana, Udaipur City Palace from The India Song (2010)


To say the least, it was instant love upon encountering this image...the gorgeous aqua colored walls (bit like being underwater), the elephant-headed pillars, the co-existence of grandeur and decay, and of course, the peacock, which not only visually fits into the picture but also, its very atmosphere. There are also other little aspects to the picture that appealed to me: the numerous sheets of glass propped up against the wall (they could have been jarring elements in the picture but instead becoming one of its many story layers) and the black rings on the ceiling, reminding me of similar ones studding room ceilings in our family haveli.

The image's title is Queen's Room, Zanana, indicating that the room was part of the suite of rooms/chambers used exclusively by the women royal members. The notion of the zanana is something that has intrigued me since my student days, particularly vis a vis in terms of space. Several years ago, when toying around with the idea of working on a haveli book project, I had visited several havelis as part of research and observed that the zanana section was always that particular space in the haveli which embodied beauty, luxury, and refinement: exquisite carvings, dramatically frescoed walls, and other attractive accoutrements. It was then explained to me that as women were rarely permitted to leave the zanana, the zanana was effectively their world - and hence, it was consciously created as the ultimate site of aesthetics, possibly making the external world pale in comparison to this interior one...

Meanwhile, returning to Knorr's work, here is her artist's statement about this particular series; drenched as it is in the language of academia, I was quite tempted to bypass it and simply focus on the visual language of the images alone. Nevertheless, it still makes for a fascinating exposition as to what her underlying intention is regarding the project.

Here are a couple of the images from the series that struck me the most:

Light of the World, Zanana, Nawalgarh
You might think that I consciously chose yet another Zanana image! To be honest, the simple, clean lines and the triplet of stained windows were what appealed to me...the insertion of the bird meanwhile melds into the surroundings while still being conspicuous.

The Sound of Rain



This image was taken in Barsaat Mahal, or Rain Chamber, in Junagarh Fort, Bikaner. Considering that rain in Rajasthan could be erratic in the past and drought an inevitable feature of life, it was possible that years would pass before people witnessed and experienced rain. I love the story behind the room that the Bikaner ruler at the time had the walls so densely and intricately and blue-ly painted as to conjure up monsoon clouds and rain; it effectively conveys both the cool and the stirring drama of rain-fall, disassociating you from the scalding heat and desert outside.

The Blue Room, Samode Palace




The room's breathtakingly detailed indigo-blue ornamentation is essentially what made me gravitate towards this image. However, on second thoughts, I contemplated whether to choose this very image to place in the blog. On the surface, this image feeds into and reiterates the archetypical Indian stereotypes: the gorgeous palace and the cow; yet, India has become much more than these two quintessential symbols in the recent years. However, as I thought more about the image, it occurred to me that it was in fact a startling juxtaposition of two stereotypes - would a cow actually have ever found entry into these exquisite royal chambers? This image therefore represents the intersection of the zenana's self-contained, insular prettiness and the earthy reality of the outside world. (Or so the still thriving academic in me thinks!) Nevertheless, whatever the interpretations, it still makes for a powerful image. And as for Samode palace, I have been longing to visit it since I first discovered it in a Rajasthan coffeetable book years ago - there are several others images from Samode in this series and the images will simply testify to the palace's beauty.

Here's wishing everyone a great October!






September 14, 2012

Performative Photography: Performing Stories


I resisted the time-line change in Facebook for quite a while before Facebook itself decided to make the choice for me;) nevertheless, having once accepted it in my midst, the cover-photo function is something that I feel I can warm up to...and when I saw this image (below), I thought it would be the perfect one to display there. The confluence of the brilliant green, fuschia and blue and the striking image of Lord Vishnu in repose (sleeping seems to the theme for the past few days!) instantly appealed to me. But alas! The image size let me down and so I trotted back over here to display my visual-spoils of the day...and indeed, what a spoil it is.

"Asleep" (2010) by Nandini Valli Muthiah. 

This image forms part of the exhibition, The Visitor, which displays Lord Vishnu in a parallel universe of sorts and is the work of Indian performative photographer, Nandini Valli Muthiah. Interestingly, my first brush with Indian performative photography also occurred in a mythological context through renowned performative photographer, Pushpamala N. and her series relating to crucial women figures in the Ramayana, specifically Kaikeyi, Sita, and Surpankha. She had provided an image from that shoot for Platform magazine accompanied by a commentary on how  elaborately and meticulously she conceived and executed the shoot: it appeared to be a film-still - and yet was not. Similarly, in this article, Nandini reveals the extensive preparatory work that this exhibition necessitated along with the actual exhaustive requirements of executing the shoot itself. For me, as I have mentioned before, the back-stories are always fascinating and this extra-knowledge, so to speak, adds, rather than subtracts from, to the overall experience of viewing the work.

 

Hindu mythology is bursting with stories already narrated and heard and seen multiple times; yet, one can still tease out another interpretation or perspective from them and re-cast them in new stories and forms. For example, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni narrated Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective in The Palace of Illusions, ostensibly creating a feminist re-telling of the story. Perhaps, an inspiration for me? Time will tell:)





September 13, 2012

Photo-essay: Mute Beauties


As far as sculptures go, for some reason, I have never been particularly interested in or inclined towards them. A large or mammoth-proportioned sculpture would probably have a greater chance of intriguing me though (particularly if it dates from historical times) but smaller sculptures do not evoke much of a reaction. However, when I chanced upon this 1910 Brancusi sculpture, Sleeping Muse, I could not help but be drawn towards it. Perhaps, it was the sublimely depicted expression of utter serenity in repose or the simultaneously warm and cool textures of the metals used in abstracting the sculpture - whatever the qualities, this sculpture is something I would definitely like to encounter in real-life.

Sleeping Muse, Constantin Brancusi (1910)

Interestingly, encountering the image of the sculpture made me suddenly recall a conceptual photography project that I had embarked upon several years ago and whose subject happened to be the wooden figurines and sculptures dotting my home. I happen to be quite fond of wood as a building material, especially when used in doors, windows, and floors - and I also like the idea of using wood when creating figures or objects. I find them much more warm and alive, so to speak, when wrought in wood, as opposed to stone, for example.

I wanted to explore the notion of these wooden figures being ostensibly mute and yet still speaking volumes through their form and shape and appearance. I chose Indonesian and Nepali wooden-face masks and a wooden figurine of a woman from Phillipines that I also use as a make-shift bangle rack. Incidentally, this figurine has especially inspired me at various levels - I have written poetry and articles about it and now, in photography, I found myself wishing to abstract a narrative from the image of her almost shackled with the weight of the wooden and metal bangles I had placed around its form. The expressions that the face-masks and the figurine display are of sleep, repose, rather, encountering peace in that state - and perhaps, that's how my mind made the associations with these images and the Sleeping Muse.

However, as it happens with many projects, while I took a lot of pictures and attempted to jigsaw them together into some kind of story, I eventually abandoned it for something else. I hadn't thought about the project for quite sometime now and almost forgotten about the images that I took for the project; however, the Sleeping Muse having jumpstarted my memory, I hunted up the images (which were aptly found in a folder called 'Misc' on my laptop) and present a semblance of a photo-essay below:


Sepia Silence


Shadowed Existence


Repose
Prisoner of Patience



Unshackled

September 10, 2012

September Ramblings...and Origami Trees


It isn't time that's passing by,
It is you and I.

-It Isn't Time That's Passing By, Ruskin Bond
 
August has already passed, September has swiftly marched its way into its second week - what substance does passage of time have anymore? Is life simply to be experienced in an eye-blink? Yet, when I single-mindedly gaze at the clock, it appears as if the minute hand is taking an eternity to complete its journey...it then seems that watching a minute pass appears to be much more time-consuming than sensing it pass. And even so, how quickly minutes melt into hours, hours into days, days into weeks...and before you know it, I will be writing my end of the year post again!

Well, dear readers, before my ramblings threaten to become even more abstruse than usual, let me present you a discovery that certainly brightened up my day - and perhaps, triggered off my meditations on time. Having located it in that amazing treasure trove of all things pretty, Pinterest, it conjured up a peaceful, idyllic spot of time in which you can linger and contemplatively peruse through your thoughts, dreams, musings...these colorful origami birds will certainly assist your imagination in literally taking flight.


Colorful flights
It struck me that you can easily inject a bit of whimsy and eccentric creativity into your own home through this method; all it takes is a tree/branch, origami/paper birds, and your unique vision to transform a corner of your home/garden into a me-space. For me, studding your home with such amusing oases of innovations is what breaks the monotony and reminds us that you can actually briefly suspend time...

Do you have such me-spaces in your own home? How did you go about creating them? I would love to hear about them!

August 6, 2012

Of Shallowness and Book Covers


The other day, having finished re-reading a favorite book of mine, Fortune's Rocks, it struck me that I was initially drawn towards the novel by its cover; I remember walking into my university book-store, noticing the cover's moody, dull aqua and neutral palette and instantly picking it up.

Of course, the popular adage reiterates that one must not judge a book solely by its cover...but in my case, I must confess that I have often been terribly shallow in that respect. Rather, I should say that I have picked up books only on the basis of their eye-catching production values, cover design and photograph; of course, this is not to say that I base my reading choices entirely on the fact that a book is good-looking;) There must be substance to the style and if a book blurb or the writing fails to intrigue or pique my interest whatsoever, the beautiful design  becomes an irrelevant fact. However, it is also an irrefutable fact that pretty packaging does not hurt too at times...

Once I have bought and enjoyed the book, I have also observed that I associate that cover and cover alone with the book; whenever I have encountered different editions of the books with varying covers, the book appears and indeed, becomes a different book to me...so much so that I can't even flip through and read it again. For me, ultimately, the cover of a book should eloquently embody the book's essential spirit - and it becomes all the more significant once you have completed reading the book. The relationship between the cover and the book's content then becomes a precious one and a jarring cover can sometimes impact the way I perceive and engage with the book.

That brings me to another peeve of mine and which has also been the subject of much debate: books by Subcontinental authors published in say, North America or United Kingdom are inevitably collectively lumped together as belonging to the exoticised narrative category. The covers are redolent of images which are ostensibly visual bywords for the subcontinent: sumptuous jewel-hued saris, saffron-hued marigolds and blood-red roses, copper urns brimming with turmeric, coriander, and chili powders, and women sporting kohl-lined eyes, flowers in their hair, and wearing melancholy expressions; all these images often have very little to do with the books' contents or writing styles. Hopefully, this trend will and is already witnessing  a decline and the books' covers ultimately reflects what the books are all about, rather than what they should be all about.


Here are a few favorite books of mines whose covers I feel embody the spirit of the book:


i) Fortune's Rocks



The novel focuses upon the metamorphosis of its fifteen year old heroine, Olympia from a girl into a woman and her awareness of this crucial fact...and how this realisation dramatically implicates so many others in her life. The novel is largely set on a beach, Fortune's Rocks in Massachusetts, United States and the ocean and the beach play an elemental role in the novel. The cover features a lone cape-robed man walking along a deserted, moody beach on a gray, overcast day; it is a dramatic, grand image and I feel it accurately captures the blend of melancholy, tragedy, and beauty that pervades the novel.

ii) In the Eye of the Sun



Described as the great Egyptian novel about England and the great English novel about Egypt, this novel too explores the transformation of an Egyptian girl, Asya al-Ulama from a wide-eyed, vivacious teenager into a jaded, world-weary woman between 1967-1980; her life is juxtaposed alongside contemporary regional political events and the title is embedded in a commentary upon the Six Day Arab-Israeli war, which took place in 1967. For me, personally, the blazing orange color palette and the cracked earth are almost akin to the surface of the sun itself, representing its the incredible heat, intensity, the inferno of energy - and thus make perfect and literal alignment with the title. Once having read the book, there are multiple other interpretations that you can tease out from the title and its bearing upon the cover. 

iii) Broken Verses



One review described the bougainvillea-strewn cover as 'exquisite' and I thought that this was indeed a beautifully styled and presented cover in as much for its appearance as its visually poetic rendering of the novel's spirit. Poetic happens to be an apt word to use in context to the novel. Focusing on the narrator, Aaasmani's obsessive denial of the fact that her activist mother, Samina has disappeared following the death of her lover, The Poet, the book deals with power of words and word-play, poetry, burnt verses, and the fascinating and dangerous relationship between the poetry and state. At one point, while attempting to untangle her thoughts, she watches bougainvillea flowers take flight and their presence upon the cover makes for a nice inter-textual reference having completed reading the book. One of my favorite covers, undoubtedly.


iv) A Story of a Widow



While looking up images for this cover, I was bemused to see that one of the alternative covers for 'The Story of a Widow'  featured - you guessed it - an incandescent silk sari. Returning to this gorgeous and infinitely more preferable cover, personally speaking, I thought it was a delightful, whimsical retro-kitsch take upon desi-style romance. Incidentally, the two roses artfully tucked in the woman's bun oddly enough reminded me of Indian state channel, DD (Doordarshan for the uninitiated:) and their women news-presenters; I still remember one of them wearing roses in their hair in this fashion. The roses have a special significance in this simply narrated story of a widow and I thought the centrally trained spotlight upon the roses in the cover was a clever touch.


v) Rebecca's Tale



Apart from the fact that it is an excellent sequel to a dearly loved novel of mine, Rebecca, the cover  also appealed to me because it was reminscent of a similar pastel drawing I created upon black construction paper back in my school-days. Linking it to the novel itself, the swirling, mysterious waters, black rocks, and the gray-jade sea effectively capture the mystery and intrigue that permeates the novel. 

Do you have a favorite book cover?

August 2, 2012

Photo-story: Confessions of a Balcony-Beach Watcher


Through the Balcony-Glass

August, the second week of Ramadan: it is a hot, stifling morning, approaching noon. I can smell the sea in the air today though, I can even hear the waves crashing upon the beach. Sometimes, the sea is quiet, invisible, content to loll in its largeness; today, though, it demands to be noticed. So I do.

There is no one around at the beach at this time of the day. Even the gulls left long back, having breakfasted, claw-printed the shore, swam, and briefly bobbed around in the jade and navy chevron-striped water. The beach is now alone and deserted, the sea spilling over to embrace acres and acres of empty sand.


Closer
A car pulls up at the beach: a dusty white Toyota Corolla. A woman and a man emerge from it. The man walks up to the tide-mark and then, stands precisely and squarely in front of it, clearly not going any further. He's still, only briefly touching his kuma every now and then. The hems of his biscuit-brown dishdasha flutter a little in the breeze that has suddenly picked up.

The woman meanwhile walks ahead to the shore, employing confident, eager steps; she lifts up the corners of her voluminous abaya, revealing a searing flash of fuchsia below...and wades further and further into the water. When she deems to have waded far enough, she pauses, as if simply absorbing her surroundings...and then, she bends down as if to pick up the water, like a neglected child clamoring for her attention. She splashes the water: snowballs of water briefly glitter in the air before dying and merging into the sea once more. Behind her, the man simply watches, his arms folded; even when seen from a distance, he radiates a bemused affection. And then, just like that, few minutes later, she retraces her path, re-arranges her abaya, and then they sit in the car and go off.

Disordering Waves
How many stories has the beach seen and heard. Some day, before it is time to say goodbye, I must go and listen to them all. One day, when the beach is as alone and deserted as it was today and the waves noisily spill over onto the sand, coughing up pebbles and shells and sea-weed and glass and dead fish, I must sit down and listen before it is too late. 

August 1, 2012

A Piece in The Exhibitionist's Debut Issue


I have previously mentioned my friend, aka twenty-first century Renaissance lady, Khadija Ejaz and have good reason to present her to you once again:)



She's conceived and executed a raw, stimulating new journal of creative arts, The Exhibitionist - and I am honored to have had a piece of mine: Of Terror and Blindness and Looking Back published in its debut issue.

Have a read...and more importantly, also enjoy the rest of the magazine - it's soul-food for the creative soul!

July 27, 2012

Installation Lives


Reading this article made me recall my first encounter with installation art in the Delhi-based artists' centre that I visited several years ago - and how my fascination has endured since then...

Fallen leaves...
I arrived there at 7am on a warm April morning; the scorching Delhi summer heat was yet to make itself felt although majority of the trees in the garden-museum complex were in various stages of leaf-fall, their branches sorely depleted of leaves. I was experiencing a curious confluence of autumn and winter in what was otherwise spring!

Perhaps, notes about the trees that I jotted down in a journal that I kept during my time there will more accurately capture the atmosphere then:

"[Here] the various types of trees baking their leaves and then, dropping them on the porcelain-like cracked earth, making the place appear like one giant kind of installation art. I have never been to a place before where even falling leaves from a tree can be a work of art. I can even see leaves falling! If I try hard enough, I can even hear them fall. 

Trees shorn of leaves look so severe, classical, streamlined in nature (pun intended!); new leaves really do soften them, like a person whose make-up has just recently been washed and cleansed away."

Wish Tree - Installation Art

In midst of the sea of denuded trees, I did not notice that particular tree until much later in the day though; during the evening of my first day, after I had had unpacked and made myself home in my quaint little studio, I took a walk around the place, exploring my surroundings. One of the first trees - or rather, works of art - that I stumbled across was this wish tree although I did not pay it more attention then. I entirely assumed that it was present in the garden-museum complex in the same capacity as that of a little shrine on the premises and that it held similar ritualistic significance; the presence of the gold and silver-leaf covered stone with a goddess' piercing eyes painted upon it [as commonly found in goddess' temples and shrines] further contributed to the effect. It was only much later that a fellow artist told me that a resident British artist had created this tree as a piece of installation art and gifted it to the centre (if my memory serves correct). But I did not know then that it was a work of art; as it happened, I briefly folded my hands and inspected it for a short while before finding myself drawn towards the other art works dotting the place.

However, after having learnt that it was in fact 'art', rather than an actual 'wish tree', I was nevertheless surprised to find flower offerings placed in close proximity to the tree; someone had chosen to accord the tree a reverential status and the boundaries had blurred to such an extent that I myself could not help but treat that space as a sacred one. The tree was no longer performing as a wish tree; it had in fact become a wish, or sacred, tree.

There is a strong sense of theatricality to such installation art pieces; they are telling stories while simultaneously and dramatically transforming the environment in which they are placed. In other words, the space which installation art pieces inhabit become theatres and the art pieces performers; if you, the spectator, were to step inside that space, you too would be a performer, participating in the narrative, becoming a part of that art-work. The art-work and the spectator/participant share an inter-dependent relationship as in the contours of their relationship ultimately motivate how the narrative moves ahead - and the art work is perceived. For me, it is almost  excitingly akin to being part of a film - and yet, you are the one motivating your performance because you are deciding which part to play and what narrative you choose to fit yourself into.



I was in such awe when I discovered this review of multi-media installation artist, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's show, The House of Books Has No Windows; these were intricately, meticulously, and fabulously constructed examples of installation art, deriving inspiration from varied sources such as cinema, music, and even Kafka. For me, this art was not necessarily something that I would want to engage with on a daily basis; rather, the experience would be all about witnessing bold, extravagant story-telling through exaggerated performance art, momentarily suspending me in an alternate reality. I would take away a chapter of that story with me, having left the exhibition; I would leave behind a piece of me embedded inside that story. We would both shape each other over the time...

******

Over the years, I realised that I too have been narrating stories albeit through different media: poetry, short stories, and image-text pieces. I have articulated stories through articles; I have presented stories in form of blog-posts and photo-essays. I would shortly like to embark upon a novel.

Yet, what compels me now is the possibility of merging the written word with such examples of installation art; I would find it thoroughly exciting to embark upon a project in which the text merges with multi-media to create a stunningly narrated story.

And now, I turn to you, dear readers: if you are so inclined and have been working in similar projects, would you be interested in a collaboration art-work? If you do...drop me a line and I would love to hear from you. It would be wonderful to give birth to innovative new art forms through the medium of this blog!









July 20, 2012

Stone Poetry: Jiyuseki's Stone Sculptures


I am a collector of sorts: I pick up newly fallen leaves and make them book-marks, I collect feathers (peacock, Indian roller-wing, sea-gull, and pigeon), finding them homes in clay bowls or once again, books. Sometimes, I collect anything that catches my fancy. For many years, I kept in my possession a tender green pine-cone I found nestled at the foot of a pine-tree in a Rhine-side German town when I was eleven years old. It constantly shuttled from one surface to another in my room and I reluctantly threw it away only when I was going to university and had to prune my life of all those extraneous possessions that I had accumulated so far.

When I was little, though, I collected shells...and rocks. Oman's incredibly rich geological heritage meant that I only had to walk some distance from my home and find a huge array of different kind of rocks awaiting me. I possessed such a mania for rock collecting that I would return home with my loot of the day and write up detailed reports with accompanying meticulously water-colored sketches and drawings (yeah, I was a geek:) If blogging had existed then, I would have surely begun a blog to document my rock discoveries! Having exhausted text-books and library books about rocks in those pre-internet days and wishing to move beyond the igneous/sedimentary/metamorphic paradigm, I even sought out geological experts to show my reports and learn more; bless their souls, instead of dismissing me, they provided me books which were infinitely more sophisticated and technical in their breadth and scope of geological knowledge. I probably understood and absorbed little but I was fascinated to the point that I was even seriously contemplating becoming a geologist when I grew up.

And so I grew up...yet, that carefully maintained pile of rocks in my backyard eventually diminished before entirely disappearing altogether. While I still do occasionally collect shells, I cannot think of the last time I embarked upon a rock-hunting expedition or brought a rock home.

Handbag

Yet, when I stumbled upon these incredible stone sculptures wrought by Japanese artist, Jiyuseki, I could not help hearkening back to those childhood days in which I found myself interpreting my surroundings through the language of stone. Jiyuseki's works reminded me of the reasons as to why I gravitated towards rocks: they were undeniably solid and impenetrable, and therefore, seemingly forbidding...yet, they were also simultaneously so beautiful through their colors, patterns, and textures. Furthermore, akin to a tropical fruit which may look non-descript on the outside, an otherwise dull-appearing rock would reveal gorgeous interiors within upon slicing through it. 

Popsicle

Mining the language of stone to the fullest, these works are examples of stone poetry indeed. I love the fact that these sculptures celebrate the sheer solidity of the stone form...and yet, also transform it into something friendly, fluid and open to interpretation; it is reminscent of the manner in which wind, sunlight, water, and other chemical processes collectively combine to carve rock surroundings into natural sculptures, reminding us that rocks are not so indomitable, after all. 

Bread Roll
It has been a delight to discover these stone sculptures, jogging my memory cells of a childhood mania that I had almost forgotten about. These sculptures are also something that I can  imagine adorning my work-desk, keeping me company while I write or muse or contemplate; they would be objects of beauty, inviting admiration, function, paper-weighting my clutter, and curiosity, eliciting attention.

All images courtesy Jiyuseki

July 15, 2012

Of Memories and Star-Rain




If I had my way, I would photograph all the memorable - extraordinary and ordinary - moments in my life; when my memories would inevitably dim one day, I would still have the photographs to refer to and subsequently refresh the memories. But a camera cannot become an appendage or an extra limb, no matter how much you think it could be - and photographs cannot substitute for memories. Life ultimately is a series of moments - and you can choose to preserve and embalm them in photographs...or let them let loose in the the wonderland of your memories, allowing them to change shape and texture as the years go by. 

These are the thoughts that lazily swim through my mind during these unusually mild Omani July nights when I walk through lamp-lit streets, crunching upon fallen, brown-green neem-fruit (wasn't it only sometime ago that the branches were heavily laden with sprigs of white blossom - and the night air was palpably drenched in their fragrance?) and walking past balding bougainvillea bushes. When I look up, I can see the star-scape in crystal-clear clarity, twinkling away, utterly the same, as it has presumably been for so many centuries. Perhaps, a star extinguished itself centuries ago; perhaps, another one is taking birth - right this moment - as I write. But for my memories of these nights, there are no subtractions or additions to the sky scape; I simply walk and walk, their silver light raining down upon me, warm as a drizzle. 

Image courtesy here

July 13, 2012

Sanjay Nanda: Pinning Down Elusive Somethings...


Several posts ago, I had mused about joining Pinterest; while I have obstinately refused to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, I could not help contemplating for the longest while that Pinterest may prove to be the exactly kind of thing that would appeal to me. I decided to try it out - and was I hooked and how!:) Its combination of online scrapbooking, mood boards, and accumulating piles of visual images, reflecting my varied interests in architecture, style, art, photography, was completely addictive and my day is definitely incomplete if I don't stop by there at least once a day. Amongst other things, I have had such a good time discovering eclectic jewelry pieces, funky style-statements and even gratuitously (and sheepishly) indulged in my affection for cute animal pictures (I have called that particular pin-board 'Adorableness Central'!) Also, judging from the insane amount of gorgeous looking food and interior ideas posted there, I am on my way towards being completely inspired about transforming the way I cook and decorate.

In the meantime, what has definitively inspired me vis a vis my photography is Indian photographer, Sanjay Nanda's work. I can't quite recall whether I discovered Sanjay through Pinterest or not; however, what I did observe is that one of the images that I pinned (below) has been the object of several repins...and with good reason, I feel.

The Marigold Offering

First off, to pare down their description to the most fundamental level, Sanjay's images are viscerally beautiful. This image of a bright, rain-washed leaf green alcove with burnt orange marigolds placed inside them is not just about exoticising the flower or encouraging dialogue about faith: it is also happens to be stunning image to look at, period. I must confess though that at times I experience a strong, almost academic need to extract some sort of narrative from a photograph - it must say something, it is saying something, or perhaps, it is indeed speaking volumes and yet, I am the one unable to hear anything! However, when glimpsing Sanjay's work, it struck me that you can often be content with the sheer aesthetics of the image alone. Perhaps, there is an intriguing story embedded inside this image; however, for me, at least at this particular moment, even if there isn't, I am equally OK with that.

A View Through the Past

This photography is the kind of work that I would aspire to create; there is something about these images that you cannot help but look at again and again. What is that elusive something-to-be-looked-at-ness though? What is it that compels you towards these images? My relationship with photography as a spectator is often dependent on the associations and thoughts that immediately mushroom through my mind while looking at the image. For example, this particular image cannot help but remind me of the textures of the walls found in the courtyard and open terraces of my ancestral haveli...there are similar arch-shaped alcoves studding the walls too. Through this image, I am transported back to my haveli while simultaneously and independently appreciating the visuals of the image itself: the graffiti heart, the layers of exposed brick, peeling plaster, and graffti, and the white and blue serenity of the domes and walls glimpsed in the distance. I love how this image is both personal and impersonal, leading me to create a completely unique relationship with it if I were to, say, hang it in my most immediate space and see it every day.

Barred Gods
Sanjay's images also deal with subjects and approaches which are akin to what I have been seeking to explore in my photography, such as eye-ball-catching wall art, and windows and doors; these are works that are inspirational in the truest sense and I look forward to further extending my explorations and fine-tuning the articulation of my particular photographic voice. At times, when you are wont to become jaded of your inclination towards a specific subject matter, someone else's fresh, full-blooded perception of the same things greatly infuses life into your own approach. Yet, the issue then becomes of ensuring that your voice remains startlingly original without falling into the trap of imitative mode...but that's another story - and post!- altogether:)

Handprints on the Wall # 2
Whether you're creating or engaging with art, it is not always necessary that you have to invest your work with multiple meanings or layers of narrative...nor must you feel obliged to to wade through them in order to fully appreciate the work. Sometimes, the act of creation is as much a thunder-bolt as the act of looking at the work itself: it need not be any more complicated than that. When I close my eyes after seeing this image above, what crystallises in my mindspace is the marriage of red and blue and flatness and depth and creates an altogether different and utterly personalised image in my head. That is art for me.

All pictures courtesy Sanjay Nanda, Indipix Gallery; have a look at his brilliant work over here.










July 2, 2012

The Wall Project: Muttrah Scribblings...


Muttrah, 2008

It is usually and often in the most quotidian, mundane, that I encounter an invigorating sense of wonder and story. On first glimpse, true, there is nothing arguably very arresting about this image: a sign-board, glass-window displaying freshly tailored garments, and a chunk of a sloppily painted white wall featuring exposed pipes, wires, and mobile numbers and other sundry numbers written upon its surface. 

I remember taking the picture of this wall four years ago; I am now trying to recollect as to why I took it. I was supposed to do a story about the Muttrah souk for an UAE newspaper; however, I was utterly exhausted of the conventional, trite pieces exoticising the souk and instead, chose to train my attention upon the alternate world which existed behind the souk. I wanted to talk to the people living there, who had made it their home for so many decades and what made them call Muttrah their home. I walked into this tailoring shop and listened to the stories of the Bangladeshi tailors, who had been here for almost two decades; there was a sixteen-inch TV positioned in one of the cornices of the room, which constantly played songs from 90s Bollywood and a noisy air-conditioner, which breathed out gusts of cold, oddly perfumed air, that accompanied our conversation. I emerged from the shop and out into the intensely hot June evening. The air smelt of a soup of odors uniquely peculiar to Gulf cities: shwarma, petrol fumes, dust, spices, and newly rotting fruit from the nearby green-grocer and the heat was like someone breathing down your neck. I momentarily stood there outside the shop, unsure of what to do or where to go next and my gaze must have then fallen upon the mobile numbers - and it must have birthed a dozen absently curious questions: whose numbers were they? why had their owners chosen to inscribe it upon the walls? who was meant to call whom?

Perhaps, if it weren't for the numbers upon the wall, I would never have taken this picture; for me, it's the presence of the numbers which invests this picture with a lively identity, always compelling those very same questions that popped into my mind the moment I glimpsed this wall. 

Yet, there is one more thing: that particular story about Muttrah souk never did get published. The stories of the Bangladeshi tailors and others whom I spoke to that evening are somewhere in one of my many notebooks, their words visibly present on the pages but destined to be unheard. All that remains from that evening walking through Muttrah souk is this picture - and whenever I look at it, I find myself stopping outside the glassed-in tailoring shop and hearing the stories once again.


June 10, 2012

Lamhe: Marriage of Places and Spaces


Desert calling: Morni Bhaga...

Lamhe (dir: Yash Chopra, starring: Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Anupam Kher, and Waheeda Rehman) is one of my most favorite films, period. However, when it was initially released in 1991, it was a huge box office disaster in India although critically feted**; the film was considered a little too ahead of its time then. Twenty two years later on, I wonder how a film revolving around a similar concept will work in contemporary Bollywood, where masala and indie cinema are enjoying a rather lively co-existence, providing a win-win situation for the audience who are privy  and desiring to witness to all sorts of stories. For me, it has made for extremely enjoyable viewing each time I have watched it - that does not necessarily mean that I do not question or find it problematic on many levels though. There is quite a lot to unpack from it and perhaps that is what makes it such an engaging watch each time...

Nunmere Hall, United Kingdom moonlights as Viren's England home

Personally speaking, for me and for the purpose of this post, I am fascinated by the role of place and space in the film. It is set and shot in two places dear to me: Rajasthan (yes, there it comes again!) and England and I find the juxtaposition of the spare, clean, dunes, the traditional architecture, and Rajasthani ethos with the modern trappings of England - the malls, restaurants, and shops, the great mansion, and the abundant greenery -  very interesting. One can also further read into the subtext of the aristocracy in the film - Viren (Anil Kapoor) is a Rajput aristocrat, who has lived all his life in England following the death of his parents and happens to be making his first visit back home when he encounters the vivacious Pallavi (Sridevi). It is his unrequited love for her that so powerfully shapes the rest of his life and those associated with it: nanny/surrogate mother figure, Daija (Waheeda Rehman), Prem, his best friend (Anupam Kher), Pallavi's daughter, Pooja (Sridevi in a double role) and his girlfriend/fiancee, Anita. While the first half of the film focuses upon his younger days and life in Rajasthan, the second half dramatically introduces us to his life in England, where he lives in a ornate, rather extravagantly decorated manor with manicured gardens, swimming pool, and an army of servants (more invisible here than in the Rajasthan haveli!)

Meanwhile, Rambagh Palace, Jaipur is Viren 's 'haveli'

Space plays an equally important role in the film. Pallavi's father has to renounce his haveli owing to property disputes and it eventually culminates in his death and Pallavi eventually marrying her boyfriend, Siddartha and leaving the place. This has implications years later when Pallavi and her husband pass away and Pooja is brought up by Daija in Viren's haveli. "Don't forget, Viren has brought you up," Anita, contesting for his affections alongside Pooja, tells her in a dramatic encounter. "No, he hasn't. Daija has brought me up. I may have lived in his ancestral haveli but he has played no role in bringing me up. To bring up and be brought up - there is a lot of difference there, Anita-ji," Pooja shoots back. In the second half, the mansion becomes a stage in which Pooja's love for Viren is played out while he still oscillates between his memories of Pallavi and denying his love for Pooja.

Pooja's mansion of illusions

This is a film of fluid, double identities: no one and nothing is quite what they are. Daijia, the nanny, becomes a mother figure to both Viren and Pooja. Prem, the best friend, is a confidante to both Viren and Pooja. Pooja is Pallavi's double - and yet she is not. Viren himself oscillates between being the awe-struck, besotted younger Viren, pining for Pallavi and the aloof, reserved, controlled businessman. While he mentally voyages back and forth between Rajasthan and England, he interestingly imagines the desert Rajasthan studded with blooms of the wonderful moments he spent with Pallavi and the lush greenness he is surrounded by in England with a barrenness, an absence.

Amer Fort, Jaipur serves as the space of declaration


The film comes full circle towards the end when we find ourselves in Rajasthan once more; however, as opposed to the haveli, it is the fort (or more specifically, Amer Fort) which becomes the space of declaration of Viren and Pooja's mutual love; Pooja has finished narrating a love-story to an audience and is leaving the place when she encounters Viren. Interestingly, rather than utilising the prettiness of the surroundings to the hilt, the fort courtyard is in fact submerged in darkness and the spotlight (quite literally) shines upon Viren and Pooja. In the end, the places, spaces and the scenery eventually all become irrelevant; we are only privy to the crystallisation of a story that began many years ago...and that is the definitive moment which ultimately matters in the end.

**However, the film was immensely successful in its overseas run