In February this year, 24-year-old artist Sahej Rahal dressed up as a medieval shaman with a staff and “invaded” the Bandra Skywalk. Soon, children, students and B-boys frequenting the skywalk started following him around, which made him look like a desi Pied Piper of sorts. This was Part I of the Bhramana series, which is an attempt to document the city by interrupting the present and staging the past and the future through elaborate rituals.
On July 25, as Part II of the experiment, which is being organised by Chatterjee & Lal Gallery, Rahal will don the attire of a mythical warrior and play droning sounds on the didgeridoo in the Dhobi Talao Subway (from Gate 3 to Gate 4). “This is an attempt to provide a metanarrative (big story) to the city through personal mythology. Through absurd multi-culture characters stepped out of history, I am attempting to document the city in an unconventional manner and bring about a dialogue. Within the narrative, these beings perform absurd acts in derelict corners of the city, transforming them into sites of ritual,” explains Rahal.
Real and mythical
Rahal shares the reason behind coining the name: “Bhramana means travel in Sanskrit but the word is also reminiscent of the words Brahma (creator) and Brahman. It’s about embarking on a journey of dreams and illusions where temporal rules don’t apply. Bhramana combines art history and mythology, and in the process of mapping the city, it also tells a story. It’s a subjective map of the city as it shows how people live and travel as a communal ritual.”
Rahal stitched his own costumes for this performance. For the second edition, he will sport a warrior’s costume while for Bhramana I, he was attired like a shaman with a medieval-tribesman-like turban and a staff. “These costumes have a sense of familiarity with people as they are drawn from pop culture. I hope viewers bring their own memories to the performance, make the story their own and create their interpretation of the project,” he reveals, adding that improvisation is crucial. “I observe the audience’s reactions and make subtle changes, accordingly.”
Heaven and below
The choice of location — Bandra Skywalk and Dhobi Talao subway — was based on the “magical feeling” admits Rahal. “There is traffic and chaos that govern the streets so people transcend them, in an almost Biblical way, by reaching out to the sky (skywalk) or going underground (subway). It’s almost a form of jugaad and fits with the metanarrative of the city. These public spaces are open zones and allow people to enter a seemingly parallel dimension,” he observes. The Andheri resident often frequented the subway and the skywalk, which gave him the germ of the idea.
Rahal, an alumnus of the Rachana Sansad Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts, has trained with performance artist Nikhil Chopra, who is renowned for his live art. As a residue of the performance, Rahal plans to retain the final mapping of the route and images from his journey at the gallery which will ensure that the illusion lasts longer, he adds. Rahal doesn’t take permissions from the authorities before staging these events: “These are public spaces; this helps bring art to the streets, adding to Mumbai’s art quotient. To reach out to a larger audience, we will also film the performance with a video camera, which will be uploaded on You Tube.”
For somebody whose inspiration is German artist Joseph Beuys (his art was defined by concepts of social philosophy and humanism), Rahal seems to be in right space.