Monday, March 16, 2015

Manisha Gera Baswani's photography project, 'Artist Through The Lens', focuses on artistes at their home or the studio. It is a collateral event of the Kochi Muziris Biennale

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Manisha Gera Baswani by Ratheesh Sundaram; Bal Chhabda; Riyas Komu with Mithu Sen

The Delhi-based Manisha Gera Baswani went to see the artist Bal Chhabda in Mumbai in 2012. After the death of Bal's wife, Jeet, in 2008, and his friends, Tyeb Mehta and MF Hussain in 2011, he had become a recluse. “But I so wanted to photograph Bal,” says Manisha, an artist-cum-photographer. “Everybody said he will not open the door. [Artist] Akbar Padamsee said, 'Bal is my closest friend, and he is not even taking my calls. So there is little chance he will meet you'.”

But Manisha's friend, Tunty Chauhan, owner of the Gallery Threshold, suggested that the photographer take a packet of chikki (a mix of jiggery and peanuts), which Bal liked a lot. And so when Manisha arrived at Mumbai, she called Bal and told him about the chikki. Thanks to his sweet tooth, Bal agreed to meet her.

When Bal opened the door, at his Malabar Hill home, Manisha noticed that it was a huge drawing room. There was a broken sofa. The sponge was coming out at different places. There were stacks of newspapers at one side. Across one wall, there was a large painting. “When I asked Bal whose painting it was, he replied that it was his best friend's work, but could not remember his name,” says Manisha. “Later, I came to know that it was a painting by VS Gaitonde.”

Manisha began taking the photos. But after 15 minutes, Bal said, “Manisha, I am feeling tired.” So, she left immediately. Sadly, Bal died two months later.

These photos, along with 400 others, of artists, curators, gallerists and collectors, are being shown at the video installation, 'Artist Through the Lens', at the Rose Bungalow in Fort Kochi. A collateral project of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, it is sponsored by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, along with the Saffron Art Foundation.

Some of the people who have been featured include Anita Dube, Manjit Bawa, Sarbari Roy Choudhury, KG Subrahmanyam, Arpita and Paramjit Singh, Bharti Kher, Gulammohammed Sheikh, LN Tallur, Jyoti Bhatt, Ranbir Kaleka and Minang Apang.

In many of the photos, you can see the artistes in their home or studio, and they look comfortable and happy. Occasionally, they seem vulnerable.

The project has been successful because I am an artist,” says Manisha. “So, they became relaxed in front of me. Once, after Riyas Komu [Kochi Biennale founder] had finished hammering a nail into one of his sculptures, during an exhibition in Delhi, he pretended to put a nail on [artist] Mithu Sen's forehead and I took that shot. I don't think he would have done that if I was an actual photo-journalist.”

The idea for the project came up in an accidental way. Between 1986 and 1992, Manisha was doing her degree as well as master's in painting at the Jamia Millia Islamia University. Her teacher was the celebrated artist and Padma Bhushan award winner A. Ramachandran. Once she graduated, she remained in touch with Ramachandran and would visit his home often.

One day, she decided to take photos of Ramachandran and his wife Chameli. And today, years later, she is still photographing them, apart from many others. And for the past four-and-a-half years, she has been writing a column for an art magazine, which features these photographs, taken with a Canon D500, as well as the stories behind them.

Since Manisha knows so many life-tales, does she feel women artistes are different from the men? Manisha, a mother of two, nods and says, “They are always multi-tasking. Men have the luxury to be on their own, without being disturbed. But women artists are always being interrupted, either by the children or the maids. It takes a lot out of them. That is one of the reasons why men are more prolific than the women.”

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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