Bread from South Mumbai Irani hotspot Kyani will now become art

Updated: Nov 14, 2016, 09:59 IST | Benita Fernando |

The Biennale’s experiment at teaming up student artists with skilled local labour will see bread from SoBo hotspot Kyani & Co. exhibited as sculpture at India’s largest contemporary art festival

Student of BFA Ceramics at JJ School, Ayushi Shriramwar has frequented Dhobi Talao bakery Kyani & Co. since July to practise baking her bread sculpture. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Student of BFA Ceramics at JJ School, Ayushi Shriramwar has frequented Dhobi Talao bakery Kyani & Co. since July to practise baking her bread sculpture. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

While artists may often find the most unusual raw materials to work with — from contraceptive pills to Pantone swatches — could bread be among those? And, specifically, bread baked at one of Mumbai’s most-loved Irani cafes, Kyani & Co.?

Ayushi must chisel away at the PoP mould to reveal the bread
Ayushi must chisel away at the PoP mould to reveal the bread

Since July this year, Sir JJ School of Art student, Ayushi Shriramwar (20) has been a regular at the Dhobi Talao chai-bun maska outpost, not just to pick up her favourite coconut jam biscuits, but also to use their oven to bake her sculpture. Currently pursuing a BFA in Ceramics from the institute, Shriramwar has been tinkering with all-purpose flour and understanding the nuances of baking from Kyani’s seasoned staff to make a six-feet-tall sculpture titled, Building Under Construction. “I always wanted to work with bread, and started experimenting with it in a very scientific method. There was no better place to do this than Kyani’s, which I have been frequenting for breakfast for the last few years,” says Shriramwar, who lives in a hostel in the vicinity of the cafe.

Ayushi Shriramwar is creating a six-foot-high bread sculpture at Kyani and Co
Ayushi Shriramwar is creating a six-foot-high bread sculpture at Kyani and Co

Shriramwar’s sculpture, when ready, will travel to the Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2016 — the third edition of one of South Asia’s premiere art festivals — as part of the Students’ Biennale. Set to take off on December 13, alongside the main festival, which is India’s largest contemporary art exhibition held every two years in Fort Kochi, Kerala, the Students’ Biennale will run for 108 days and is being helmed by 15 curators from across the country. Among them is Shruti Ramalingaiah, who has selected seven students from JJ School, including Shriramwar.

A plywood mock-up of the installation
A plywood mock-up of the installation

Trial and error
When we meet Shriramwar on Saturday morning at Kyani’s, she brings with her a plaster of Paris mould and is excited at having got a grip of maida and traditional coal-fire ovens after going through almost 18 experiments at Kyani’s. “As I am trained in ceramics, I am familiar with the process of baking, but it is very different when you work with dough. Its elasticity makes it a tricky medium to bring under control,” she explains.

Ashwam Salokhe’s homage to a chaiwalla at Belapur includes six photographs printed on paper treated with coffee. Pic/Aman Negi
Ashwam Salokhe’s homage to a chaiwalla at Belapur includes six photographs printed on paper treated with coffee. Pic/Aman Negi

Shriramwar’s method involves making a Plaster of Paris mould, putting it in the oven to bake with dough filled inside and finally chiselling away at the mould when done. “I tried using butter, flour and margarine initially to help slip the sculpture out of the mould — the way cakes are removed from baking bins — but realised that chiselling was my best option,” she explains. This process — for which Shriramwar has had the help of Kyani’s staff, Tulsi and Irfan — also means working with conditions available in the bakery — their oven, their baking temperatures and their daily trays of bread. “I have to make sure I don’t disturb their routine,” says Shriramwar, as a worker balances a giant tray of pavs from inside the kitchen into the seating area.

Aman Negi, a graduate of portraiture from JJ School, has made a series of works on cobbler Rakesh Prasad Saket, who runs his shop near Lokmanya Tilak Marg police station, Kalbadevi. Pic/Poonam Bathija
Aman Negi, a graduate of portraiture from JJ School, has made a series of works on cobbler Rakesh Prasad Saket, who runs his shop near Lokmanya Tilak Marg police station, Kalbadevi. Pic/Poonam Bathija

To make her sculpture, which will rise up to six feet — as tall as the mirrored pillars in Kyani’s — Shriramwar has divided the piece into one-foot segments. Each segment will be baked individually for about eight hours, from 7.30 am when the Kyani’s furnace gets loaded with other pastries and breads. “They need to be baked for this long so that they become kadak. Any more and they will take on the consistency of khari — it’s brittle and difficult to chisel the mould later,” she says.

Students’ Biennale participating artist, Sanika Khanvilkar has worked with metal fabricators in Kalwa for her installation, Marching Moulds. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Students’ Biennale participating artist, Sanika Khanvilkar has worked with metal fabricators in Kalwa for her installation, Marching Moulds. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Once baked, the segments will be held together by an iron rod running through. The bread sculpture should bring to mind the multi-storeyed towers we see in urbanized centers.

Working with skilled communities
Showing us a mock-up of the sculpture in plywood, Shriramwar says she is concerned with the sense of claustrophobia and matchbox rooms in multi-storey high-rises across the country.

The collaboration between the artist and Kyani’s is also part of the brief given by curator Ramalingaiah. Earlier in July, Ramalingaiah had co-mentored the students in a workshop, asking them to look at local communities that involve skilled labour. “Students are familiar with skills in an academic environment. We want to see collaborations with communities outside the college campus and do away with the distinction between artisan and artist,” she says.

Aman Negi, a JJ School graduate of MFA Portraiture, found a muse in Rakesh Prasad Saket, a cobbler who runs a stall beside Lokmanya Tilak Marg Police Station in Kalbadevi, and draws a large number of policemen for a quick polish or repair. Negi has studied Saket and his tools – many of which are his own creations – through ink drawings, oils on paper and even a GIF. The 25-year-old artist says he was intrigued by the repetitive stitches made by the cobbler. “Portraiture is one of the hallmarks of JJ School,” says Negi, adding, “but people think portraits and paintings are dead.”

Sanika Khanvilkar, a graduate of BFA Painting, has spent time with metal fabricators in Kalwa, Thane, to create Marching Moulds, a series of metal symbols that will be arranged like military regiments. Another participant, Ashwam Salokhe, has chosen a chaiwalla in CBD Belapur for a series of photographs and a sound installation. The chaiwalla, who is active only during peak hours, office hours, is known for the distinctive clang that his mortar and pestle makes while crushing ginger.

Ramalingaiah says that works for the Students’ Biennale will be installed across Jew Town Road to Bazaar Road in Fort Kochi. Instead of traditional gallery spaces, the sites are Mohammed Ali Warehouse, Fadi Hall, Heritage Arts Antiques and a spice shop, among others.

For Shriramwar, the bread sculpture also comes with the additional pressure of working with organic materials. Over time, within a week or so, the sculpture is bound to gather mold. Rather than being concerned, the artist is curious to see the colour that the sculpture will gain – perhaps a moss green or a pale blue – as the days progress. “I don’t see why a work has to be ‘permanent’.”

KMB 2016
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), now in its third edition, began as India’s first international contemporary art festival in 2012. Founded by Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, the KMB is now in its third edition, this time curated by artist Sudarshan Shetty. The Students’ Biennale will run parallel to the KMB 2016.

Opens: December 12, 2016
Ends: March 29, 2017
Total number of participating artists: 97 visual artists and artistes from across 36 countries

108
No. of days Student’s Biennale will run at KMB 2016

8
No. of hours each bread segment takes to bake

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