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Celebrating Ajji

Shakuntala Kulkarni's unusual show projects grandmothers as protagonists

IN OUR TIME, when the perfect plastic look reigns supreme, Mumbai-based artist Shakuntala Kulkarni brings to town a show with a difference. Ajjincya Goshti (grandmothers' tales) presents a 48-minute projection of seven video films viewed within an intimate space, finally forming a single, composite art form.

Individual experiences

Today, when woman are educated, economically independent entities, no longer housebound, these narratives take on a singular dimension. Within the video space, these grandmothers as protagonists share glimpses of their childhood, adolescence and school days, and their experiences as daughters, wives, mothers, mothers-in-law and grandmothers.

Through their eyes, through their everyday joys and sorrows, their trials and tribulations, the viewer accesses and interprets their saga through the lens of their individual experiences. Each Ajji's narration melds with her body language to tell another story. In one film, the Ajjis move within their home spaces. In another, they participate in a Bhishi celebration by eating, chatting and sharing fun. A third shares their good times while they are on a picnic at Mudh Island, off Mumbai. Another film explores the multi-layered experience of lunch.

In a strangely moving way, this is a celebration of a world apart.

Of wrinkles and age spots as marks of honour, of experience as a marker of a life truly lived. Of small, precious moments, beyond major achievements, that knit together life's whole.

This is how Shakuntala couches it: "These stories help to create a possibility of understanding of the social and cultural history, and traditions of their times. I have treated the stories as the archival work of the women's lives of that particular era." Continuing her explorations of time and space, Shakuntala stresses: "Story telling is a powerful way of sharing and communicating about a way of life. A profound relationship develops between the storyteller and the listener. These stories, though personal and intimate, reveal subtle nuances in the life of the storyteller. As a visual artist I wanted to recreate this intimacy, this profound relationship through the medium of video films by using the format of the grandmother's stories."


Does she succeed in her unusual installation? In an age when Surekha uses intimate video as a potent narrative tool, when Rekha Rodwittiya foregrounds the asexual image as a feminine exploration, this question matters. Here's how Mumbai-based critic Shilpa Phadke views the installation against the backdrop of current film and TV practices within the domestic context:

"Media images have reified the middle class woman and her modern practices of consumption even as national cultural histories are sought to be written on her body.

How do these ageing Mother India's adapt to the changing socio-cultural and economic scenarios?

More importantly how does their presence in these frames redefine our own visions of what it means to be middle-class? ... Shakuntala's work addresses questions of representation: asking who has the right to speak and for whom and about what? It also raises questions about how society defines what is worthy of attention and what is not... "

(The installation will be on at artist Suresh Jayaram's studio, No. 1, Shanthi Road, Shanthi Nagar on November 19 and 20. Phone: 22220236)


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