Being Mahatma

Published: Oct 03, 2019, 07:00 IST | Shweta Shiware

In the year of his 150th birth anniversary, drop by an exhibition that pieces together Gandhi's life and philosophy through India's diverse artistic attitudes

What is it about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi that still manages to provoke the big, clever, embracing conversation? For Lavina Baldota, the mind behind conceptualising and co-curating Santati-Mahatma Gandhi Then. Now. Next exhibition, it’s the bittersweet recollection of shared memories of Gandhiji and her grandfather-in-law Abheraj Baldota during the freedom movement.

So, when she decided to distil her imaginings into the concrete form of a retrospective to coincide with Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, she immediately found like-minded collaborators; first in designer Gaurang Shah, and consequently in Gaurav Gupta, Rajesh Pratap Singh, couturier Jean François Lesage, light designers Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth, and architect Ashiesh Shah.

And while there are physical pieces of Gandhi’s memorabilia loaned by Mumbai-based collector, philatelist and numismatist Kishore Jhunjhunwala, there is also ample evidence of how the mouthpiece of Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement — the khadi — surrenders to designers’ extreme creative risks. Gaurang Shah worked with a series of 30 milestone paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and wove them into exquisite pallus of sarees in khadi. Couture embroidery teamed up with khadi in Lesage’s project to translate Gandhi’s letters onto fabric scrolls.

The result are 10 exhibits featuring works that have lent their perspective on India’s Mahatma, a reminder of how the idea of him is reinvented over and over again, always asking to be rediscovered.

Prateek Jain and Gautam Seth of Klove Studio: Ahimsa

Playing with the usual dichotomy of abstraction and representation, past and present, two dimensions and three, Ahimsa inspires haunting memories of Gandhi — his rounded spectacles inspiring metal lights in eclipsing circles and bars suspended on strings perched above a bed of fused salt to represent the Dandi March that became a symbol of India’s freedom movement.

Navkirat Sodhi


“Poetry is a seamless medium; does not take sides, and creates a universe amidst itself with no ego,” says Sodhi. She was entrusted with the Herculean task of connecting the multi-faceted man that was Gandhi to the creative impulses of the participating artists and designers. Case in point: “A world will stand still. A world will pay heed. A world can begin to turn around in the quiet spinning of a wheel” is scrolled beside a handloom wheel positioned at Gaurang Shah’s khadi sarees display.

It took a sort of submission on the poet’s part where she found herself invoking the Mahatma’s spirit, sometimes understanding but mostly questioning his utopian messages for the world. Gandhi takes over. He narrates her poems, her presence almost diminishing into his. “I have written them [poems] in first person, and his name is never stated, perhaps a rare mention of Bapu.” Check out her solo installation where the simplicity of the verse: “Can you hear me Bapu…” is captured on a non-confrontational white canvas.

Rajesh Pratap Singh: Neel
Much of Gandhi’s liberal nature lent him a canvas-like quality that was distorted, tipped or suppressed after his death in the course of elevating him to the Father of the Nation. He remains a blank canvas that people feel free to draw on with the strokes of their beliefs and paranoia, tilting him to suit their inclinations. Singh’s Neel is rather telling of Mahatma’s anguish if he were to be among us today. An immersive three-dimensional sensory study, Gandhi’s face installation sits atop an Indigo-hued water tank. Sculpted from hundreds of nails, his head is tugged in one direction by a mesh of threads in orange and green held by miniature men, while one fragile figurine attempts to veer him in the other direction with the waning strength of white strands.

Gaurav Gupta: Truth

Gandhi was 78 when he passed away. “But he had planned his life until 125. I listened to his recreated heartbeat, and it was perfect,” says Gupta, alluding to his visit to The National Gandhi Museum where researchers have gathered the ECG details from different stages of Gandhi’s life and recreated his heartbeat on the digital medium. This heartbeat forms the circumference of Gupta’s Truth. Inside it rests the sanctum for reflection; sculpted scoops of fabrics intermeshed into an infinity symbol that multiplies and develops depths as you gaze down on its mirrored base.

TILL November 15, 11 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)
AT National Gallery of Modern Art, MG Road, Fort.
CALL 22881969

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