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A catharsis of sorts

After the 2002 Godhra riots, artist Vasudha Thozhur was deeply disturbed by the carnage as well as the suffering of the locals in Gujarat. But rather than capturing their pathos on canvas, she decided to take matters in her hand by working with the victims and empowering them. She started working with six young girls, who lost several members of their families in the carnage at Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002 and trained them extensively in screen-printing, video filming and printing dyes. Beyond Pain: An Afterlife, an exhibition of drawings, paintings, posters, prints, books and videos created by the girls as part of Thozhur’s decade-long project, will be on display at Sakshi Gallery and Project 88 from July 11. 


A painting by one of the six girls who lost  her family members in the Naroda Patiya carnage in 2002

Elaborating on how the project took off, Thozhur says, “I wanted to get out of the studio, work at the ground level and create a space for creativity for the locals. Since 2002, I was looking to collaborate with activists who would be willing to take up such a project along with me. Finally in 2005, I met Monica Wahi and Zaid Ahmed, who had set up Himmat, a women’s collective for those widowed in Naroda Patiya. They provided me the space and I designed a curriculum that would facilitate exchange of ideas, views and provide a stimulating environment. Six girls whose mothers made garments for a living came forward. I also devised an economic model wherein they were compensated for coming to class everyday.”

The 56-year-old artist decided to start off by giving them literacy classes before making them self-sufficient. “Since I started working three years after the carnage, they had mellowed down considerably and were plagued by practical problems such as water shortage, lack of electricity etc. These issues hardly left them any time to ruminate about what they had suffered earlier. All these issues became the focal point in their paintings.”


Vasudha Thozhur’s paintings that will be on display at the exhibition

The first phase (2002-2008) involved fieldwork and a series of workshops facilitated by the artist and resource persons from various professions. A residency at Khoj, New Delhi, in 2006 supported the compilation of the output, mostly produced by the girls, and the editing of six pieces of video footage shot by them. The work was shown in several venues over many years, outside of a conventional art context. In the second phase of the project (2009-2012) the artist added her paintings to the collection, and brought it within the purview of formal display spaces in the form of a collaboration.

Thozhur says, “Nine of my works will be on display as part of this exhibition. They essentially provide an introduction to these girls’ works. I have tried to redefine still life and landscape on the lines of their works and the carnage.”

Quiz her what has she taken away from the project and Thozhur smiles, “Today the girls are married, have their respective families but are brimming with confidence. Hopefully, these skills will make them self-reliant. I learnt that art can be a great tool of catharsis.”

When: July 11-31
Where: Sakshi Art Gallery;
Project 88, Colaba.
Call: 66103424; 22810066 

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