In Ravi Agarwal’s curations of photographs, sculptures and artifacts, we find a unique experience of fact, fiction and fascination.
In a world where storytelling blurs the line between fact and fiction, photography emerges as a visual medium that intersperses both beautifully. This is what Ravi Agarwal has in mind in curating two exhibitions at the Serendipity Arts Festival this year.
The curations, ‘Urban Reimagined’ and ‘Imagined Documents’, seek to bring out the genre of staged and constructed photography in the unique language of a photographer. Dating back to the 70s, this genre enables photographers to design their photographs to put their message across. “I also want to showcase the specific language that a photographer uses,” reveals Agarwal.
The works that make up ‘Imagined Document’ construct designs from memory, from elaborate sets and re-imagined narratives. At first glance, you might find the photographs right out of a fairy-tale — but look closer and you realise how these images fold truth into their myth-like representations.
A part of this series, photographer Sharbendu De’s ‘Imagined Homeland’ is a collection of photographs that bring to the fore the Lisu community that resides on the Indo-Myanmar border. In the blues and greens of a glowing forest, De captures members of the community engaging in both fact and fiction.
“The project started as an effort to document the Lisu community — their deprivations of rights and suffering,” De explains. “But I soon realised that the classic approach is not the way to go about this. To move away from the problematic nature of the documentary style of photography, I applied a conceptual approach.”
For years now, the documentary method of photography has indulged in the romanticisation of the subject. In conceptualising ‘Imagined Homeland’, De strays away from this practice. “It’s not always about their suffering. I want the viewers to understand how the Lisu community lives symbiotically with nature and all that they have to offer.” ‘Imagined Homeland’ also displays works from Prajakta Potnis, Azadeh Akhlaghi, Dia Mehta Bhupal, Bani Abidi and Munem Wasif, among others.
Agarwal’s curations stand out not only in their themes, but also their mediums. In ‘Urban Reimagined’, artist Achia Anzi explores colonial architecture and history in her series titled ‘Colonial Times’. ‘38 Sinklings’, by Sahil Naik, the other series in this curation, uses personal archives and memories from families to portray life and loss. “Both these series talk about migration and displacement — themes displayed in a mixed-up combination of photographs, text, artifacts and sculptures.”
Years in the making, the work on display at the festival might leave you enlightened, provoked for thought or speechless. But when asked, Ravi Agarwal says, “I hope the audience takes away the truth from these photographs — but most of all, I just want them to enjoy the art.”