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How do artefacts reach a museum?

Sleeping through the Museum is an exhibition by Waswo X Waswo where he recreates a museum at Sakshi Gallery with lithographs, photographs and artefacts, in a bid to raise questions on the whys and hows of curating objects

Udaipur-based American artist Waswo X Waswo is known for his processed sepia-toned photographs. In his latest show, Sleeping through the Museum, the artist recreates an old museum with hand-tinted photographs, lithographs, artefacts and video, to understand the notions of ‘museum-worthiness’. Excerpts from an interview:

An image titled A Break from Work by Waswo X Waswo. The exhibition questions the worthiness of art in museums
An image titled A Break from Work by Waswo X Waswo. The exhibition questions the worthiness of art in museums

Q. What is the central idea behind this exhibition?
A. The original idea was a form of self-examination. When I was young, my cousin had organised the painted backgrounds of the dioramas at the local natural history museum. One day, I decided to check if those images could be found online. It occurred to me that many of my own photographs have the same feel.

The artefacts on display at Sakshi Gallery
The artefacts on display at Sakshi Gallery

I’ve worked for eight years with models posing against hand-painted backdrops. That mode of photographic construction also creates a diorama. It was unintended and it bothered me.

Waswo X Waswo
Waswo X Waswo

So, I had to address the issue. This is a thematic show where the viewer is taken step-by-step, as in a museum, and there is even a Handy Museum Guidebook printed for the visitor.

Gazing Beyond, Oil on Canvas by John Fernandes
Gazing Beyond, Oil on Canvas by John Fernandes

Q. Why did you choose the topic of museum-worthiness?
A. I was flipping through a reference guidebook to artefacts kept by the Archeological Survey of India. Some of the “artefacts” depicted were still in use in the village of Varda, Rajasthan (where my studio is located). I wondered what really was an artifact. What made a village pot worthy of being in a museum but not old dishes in my own kitchen? Who makes these cultural decisions? Why does placing something under a glass case cause it to assume higher value?

Q. Who are the other collaborators?
A. Three collaborators have worked with me for over a year: Rajesh Soni, a photo hand-colourist, who brings my black and white photos to life; Subrat Behera, an Oriya lithographer, who made free responses to my photos in a dream-like way and Shyam Lal Kumhar, a Rajasthani potter, who made objects that imitate museum artefacts.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A. My father, George, was in India during World War II and I have had a long connection with the country. I’ve lived here for 12 years and feel accepted as part of the Indian art scene. But I’m not so naïve as to think I totally belong here. I know my underlying American-ness will always keep me a bit of an outsider. But that outsider-ness can afford a unique perspective too.

Till June 21
At Grants Building, AB Road, Colaba. Call 66103424

Also, check out: The unsung artist
Some of the unseen works by the late John Fernandes (1951-2007), famous for his realist paintings, is now on display. Fernandes was skilled in the medium of pencils, charcoal, watercolours and oils. Kushag Patel, director of Art Desh gallery, informs, “John Fernandes’ work has been collected by luminaries.

But access to his work is limited. Collectors who have his work rarely part with them. Somewhere along, his name went amiss in the public consciousness, coinciding with a move away from realist art in industry circles.”

Along with the original works, limited edition prints will be available on sale. Agnes Fernandes, wife of the artist, sums up his work: “He was one of the few realist artists who worked on all subjects. His ability to lend a graceful sensuality to his figures and the play with light sets his work apart”

Till May 20 at Art Desh The Studio, Walkeshwar Road.

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