Bamboozled by ‘Origins’

Reviews: Exhibitions / Performances

Kul Bhushan recently confronted ‘origins’ at a British Council exhibition of Indo-UK Images in New Delhi.

You go for the opening of a photo exhibition at British Council, and without any prior information you suddenly see the portrait of your grandfather clicked almost a hundred years ago! That what happened recently to bamboozle me!

The portrait of my grandfather, Vasu Deva Sharma, taken in 1923 was featured in the live section from Instagram presentation. In 1920, Vasu Deva enrolled as one of the first Indian students at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London; he graduated three years later in Decorative Painting and was granted an Associateship of RCA. He then toured Europe for another four years, seeing original works of art and painting to pay for his travels. The portrait at the British Council shows him painting in a Berlin studio during this period.

How did this happen? One of the curators invited entries on Instagram and my son Nyay responded with this photo. Without giving any hint in advance, he invited my wife and me to the opening ceremony. On arriving, we were guided to the screen with these photos; I was astonished to see my grandfather’s portrait!

Vasu Deva Sharma,  Berlin
Interventions, Alexandra Lethbridge
Road wallah by Doug Wallace
Janice Pariat 's taxidermied lioness


Promoting Indo-British relationship in view of PM Modi’s impending visit to the UK, a Photoukindia titled ‘Origins’ exhibition had a grand opening in New Delhi with over 200 artists, photographers and celebrities.

Explaining the title ‘Origins’, Rob Lyne, the director of British Council, said the connection between UK and India is constantly evolving and the synthesis of culture leads to fusions that need to be reimagined. The photos depict the range of possible interpretations of the term ‘origins’.

Rahaab Allana, who collaborated and curated the exhibition for the Alkazi Foundation, said that before looking at any photograph, look at yourself and find out what it tells you about you. Origins draws on our foundations, on intimacy, the harvest is about varying registers and degrees one has with the closest to us, and often their projections of us – individuals, communities and spaces that are as much an anchor, as debility, he said.

British and Indian photographers are presented in good measure to show how they see each other’s worlds and their own. Divia Patel from Mombasa, now a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, showcases some memorable photos of Mombasa Old Harbour and images from family albums including her visit to India.

Alexandra Lethbridge created ‘interventions’ in conventional photography by combining family snapshots by layering them to present a narrative. The manner the photos are positioned makes the collages more dramatic.

Dough Wallace has captured the tough life of Mumbai taxi drivers or road wallahs, their gaunt faces and the chaotic, noisy and sometimes claustrophobic work place of the drivers who sometimes spend up to 24 hours behind the wheel of 20-year old Padmini (Fiat) cars.

Writer and a novelist Janice Pariat has a quaint photograph of an encased taxidermied lioness in front of a maharajah who probably shot the animal. “Whose hand slayed you?” she asks, “Whose hand brought you back, wicked necromancer of the old days?”

The Bollywood connection is seen with fashion photographer Karan Kapoor, son of famous hero Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendall Kapoor who provides a peek into the elderly Anglo Indians in Kolkata.

In all, this exhibition open until next January, presents a stunning kaleidoscope of British, Indian and Anglo-Indian images with a cheeky peek at the past.

Review by Kul Bhushan

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