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Game for Verbal Kabaddi, anyone?

Artist duo, Thukral & Tagra draw from the Dr Bhau Daji City Museum's collection of ancient and traditional games including Ganjifa cards, and Kabaddi in their exhibition, Games People Play, to explore the idea of play from cultural, physical and psychological perspectives. Excerpts from an interview with Sumir Tagra

Q. How do you derive a similar artistic expression for all of your works? How is the creative process divided?
A. By now, we've been working for 12 years together. So its easy, because we know what the other wants to do even if its not articulated. So, if one decides, the other follows and it constantly keeps evolving. We have been following this process for a while, and it's a sort of natural process. It happens in sync with the other, like driving in a rally, where one has the map and the other drives.

Narasimha, a painting in brass, on display
Narasimha, a painting in brass, on display 

Q. Could you shed some light on your exhibition Games People Play?
A. The project started as a simple idea. We were supposed to respond to the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum's collections, as artists. While we were there, we had so much of information and the artifacts were so fascinating! We started looking at it and took the ideas ahead. Then, we spotted a set of Ganjifa cards. They are very old, one of the first versions of playing cards, probably from the late 17th century. They had images of gods on it and people used to play those cards for days. This instigated an idea of a relation between God and games; more importantly, the social aspects of such games. For instance, who determines that cricket should not have six balls? So, we researched on questions that were never raised. It seemed interesting, as that dimension had not been explored.

Q. So, like most of your works, will Games People Play be a critique of the consumer culture and its repercussions?
A. Not really, because things have changed. Then again, Games People Play is from a larger point-of-view. The idea behind it is not just the spectrum of sports, but deals with the social and psychological change that people do to one another. It's open to many avenues. There is a film too, which is the epic version of our ideas, which we wrote. It centres on human desire as well. Games or any competitive subject is not to be related to entertainment or passing time, only. It has a lot to do with dedication, mental abilities, tactics and strength. So, its not just a physical idea, there are psychological aspects as well. We tried to explore this. So, we made this project called Verbal Kabaddi, which has tongue twisters and recitation. When we did that for the first time in Delhi, the museum director Tasneem Mehta loved it and wanted us to respond to the collection of the Museum with the same thing. We made the second version — Verbal Kabaddi 2 — in Mumbai for people to revisit their history.

From April 19 to June 9
At Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Byculla (E).
Call 23731234

Poster for the exhibition
Poster for the exhibition

From the curator's desk
I've always felt that their work has a strong interface between design and art, which they straddle successfully. Also, their works look upon the middle-class aspirations and desires. After a person attains a certain economic level, their expressions of their desires vary. Here, they have merged the aspirations and the material development into a spiritual development. Transformation of man, like it has been depicted in the Mahabharata, has also been shown. So it is man's evolution towards that goal of self-development that they have done beautifully. It brings many aspects of traditional culture, the idea of games and the idea of life as a negotiation or an arena of contest.
— Tasneem Mehta, Museum Director, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum

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