Guess who's the viewer at this show

Sep 25, 2011, 10:19 IST | Dhamini Ratnam

At Sakshi gallery's ongoing exhibition, California-born curator Maya Kovskaya makes a case for photography that throws the gaze right back at you

At Sakshi gallery's ongoing exhibition, California-born curator Maya Kovskaya makes a case for photography that throws the gaze right back at you

As you open the expansive frosted glass doors of Sakshi Gallery, located in a building that also houses the offices of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Colaba, the  first sight to meet your eye is a bunch of acrylic panels, hanging from the ceiling, of girls staring at you with a level gaze.

From Sheba Chhachhi's Seven Lives & A Dream -- Feminist Portraits.
This work from the early '90s marks the shift to self-consciously staged
photography in contemporary photography in India

On the wall behind these, titled Balika Mela, are photographs of androgynous women. Further behind them, in an alcove, are bricks with faces of daily wage labourers on each. They are the men who rebuilt New Delhi during the Commonwealth Games, brick by brick, in record time. You are no longer the viewer of art at this exhibition -- the art is looking right back at you.

In many ways, the gaze is the starting point for curator Maya Kovskaya's show Staging Selves: Power, Performance and Portraiture. By questioning the fundamental role of viewing, Kovskaya brings up several concerns through these works by Iranian, Chinese and Indian photographers. Excerpts from an interview.

The show brings together seemingly disparate works, such as those by Shebha Chhachhi, documenting the feminist movement of the '90s, Ravi Agarwal, who explores the condition of workers of Bhatti Mines, and Samar Jodha, that concern the unequal distribution of wealth during the Commonwealth Games. What were the common elements in their work?

All the works in the show are unified by a self-conscious practice of each artist who is sensitive to questions of the gaze, power and representation. The works are portraits that depict real people playing the roles of themselves.

The question of gaze is always a contentious one. It at once, places the viewer in a position of power, even though your show questions the politics of gaze.

This show examines at least four kinds of gaze, and the varying power asymmetries implied in each: The gaze of the artist at the subject; the gaze of the subject back at the artist and viewers; the myriad gazes of the viewers, who bring their own experiences, and sets of assumptions to bear on the reading and interpretation of the work; and the gaze of the lens and the subject's performance of self before that lens.

The presence of the selves gazing back at us reminds us of the necessary incompleteness of all representations. The show also tackles representation from a variety of other angles. For instance, Tejal Shah's Women Like Us presents a "female masculinity" that quietly defies what it means to be a woman.

Today is the last day of Staging Selves at Sakshi Gallery, Colaba.
Call: 66103424

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