Performance photography is not exactly a much-tried medium in visual arts in Delhi. Some may recall Pushpamala N. and photographer Clare Arni's collaborative efforts on “Women of South India: Manners and Customs”, which showed at Bangalore's Gallery Sumukha in 2004 to great response. Earlier, gay rights activist Amit Gupta has also done a few performance photography shows asserting his angst and anxiety on society's' ignorance of gay matters.
This time Delhi's Gallery Espace has brought a show titled “A Cry from the Narrow Between” — a collaborative art exhibition by Mumbai-based artist Tejal Shah and Beijing-based artist Han Bing. What unites the two is essentially the performance photography, though the topics remain largely dissimilar.
“A Cry from the Narrow Between” draws its title from a poem by the ancient Greek lesbian poet Sappho, for whom the “narrow between” is the fraught boundary dividing life and death, and the unbearable, unshakable state of limbo experienced in the agonal throes of transgressive love.
In this rather provocative exhibition, the young Han Bing recalls his days of struggle as a poor migrant from a Chinese village to a big city. Bing's performance photography has everyday objects, especially tools of manual labour and construction sites which he eroticises.
Take for instance, in “Love in the age of big construction”, Bing makes a dream sequence of sorts with heaps of white cotton laid as white cloud on the floor. The rainbow coloured, scintillating, transparent curtains fall on a yellow crane on which Bing ‘sensually' lies as if lost in a sweet dream. In his other “Mating Season” series, he stands nude holding/clasping broken bricks and making it erotic with sensual posing and suggestive eyes.
Bing also gave a performance outside the gallery involving local labour. The performance constituted a dream sequence with white cotton in which the labourers slept holding a brick close to them, while incense sticks kept on the bricks emanated fumes and fragrance to complete the ‘dream and displacement' feeling.
Says 34-year-old Bing with the help of his translator and curator Maya Kovskaya, “One can't go back to the tradition and clinch it, but one can always love it and recall. In my performance interpretations I never ask questions. I only provoke people to think what has urban development done to migrant people's life, and speculate.”
On the other hand, 30-year-old Tejal Shah, an activist, who works in close association with transgenders, has come up with an extremely moving story of a transgender in Mumbai physically wronged by a policeman and tourists, through a multimedia installation and interesting performance photographs as visualized by LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex) people.
Her photographic series “Hijra Fantasy”, hence, shows a few of them enacting what they often fantasise themselves as. One of the transgenders, for instance, always saw himself as a mother — a mother like Yashoda was to Krishna. Hence, in the photograph the transgender was made to dress up like Yashoda with a child dressed as Krishna. Yashoda shows a moon to Krishna in the picture and the photograph is titled “You can reach the moon too”.
In other photographs, transgenders dress up and act as Cleopatra, Vasantsena, Southern Siren and so on.
Says Tejal, “This exhibition is not just art for me. It is an issue. I have been working with the Hijra community since 2003 and know that they suffer from immense discrimination and exploitation in society. So, once I asked a few of them to share with me their secret desires and that's how this series came up.”
The exhibition concludes on April 3.