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Updated: November 3, 2012 15:33 IST

An identity for the nameless

RESHMA S KULKARNI
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Special Arrangement "Govardhan": A print from "Pageants of the Raj: the work force".

Pageants of the Raj: The Workforce; Where: Tao Art Gallery, Worli, Mumbai; When: Till November 15

The biggest injustice that can be heaped upon an individual is the stripping of one’s individuality. This was a reality that many Indians had to live with during the pre-Independence era; especially those from the lower castes and classes.

This is a wrong that self-taught artist Devangana Kumar attempts to set right with “Pageants of the Raj: The Workforce”. This show tries to give the nameless people who toiled to keep the Raj machinery running an identity.

The show is a collection of 30 works that portray workers such as bawarchis (cooks), mehtars (sweepers), bhishtis (water bearers) and chowkidars (watchmen). The photographs, which form a part of Devangana’s collection, have been reproduced as prints on silk velvet and encased in rich ornate borders.

“While their masters enjoyed opulent and luxurious lives, these workers were deprived of ease and comfort. It was a strange case of being surrounded by water but not having a drop to drink,” says Devangana. “What also disturbed me was the way these people were stripped of any self-identity. For instance, they wore identical uniforms but the cummerbunds would be of different colours depending on their professions. A bawarchi wore a brown cummerbund so that his mistress could distinguish him from the rest of the staff. Their entire life would be spent without their employer even remembering their name. The thought that people could be clubbed as a part of an unnamed floating mass of humanity was so disturbing.”

Devangana’s prints are done up in silk velvet, precious stones and bright colours: all things associated with royalty. Devangana’s tryst with art has been a long-standing one. “I have been collecting images from the pre-Independence era but three years ago, I started looking at them more carefully. I found hordes of postcards on this issue. This show is an effort to highlight the social inequity that still remains rooted in our society and also seeks to pay tribute to these selfless workers who spent their life toiling in anonymity.”

Keywords: Devangana Kumar

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