Of Men and Supermen

 

Of Men and Supermen is about the nature of truth, the hidden and the apparent and the difference between the real and fictional. They are extracted from a larger body of archival site specific work based in Mazgaon and Wadibunder that is a cross section of a layered and multi- tiered space, which comprises an eclectic mix of temporary setups, chawls, shanties and tenements, amidst more permanent historic landmarks and its inhabitants.

Documenting the life and living conditions of specific loosely strung together communities of people forced me to revisit these sites on a daily basis, and resulted in these spaces becoming stages set for the performance of the everyday.

These stages enabled the idea of the fictional to percolate into the realm of the real, generating a new urban metascape and transforming people into the Superheroes of their own narratives.

These works engage with the duality of identity, overlapping the real and the fictional, forcing them to coexist and dissolving the barrier between the two.

 

Ali Akbar Mehta

2012

The Possibility of Alienation

 

The possibility of alienation in a city that claims cosmopolitanism as a constant, cannot be attributed to the loss of cultural space specifically due to revisits to the city’s history, but bizarrely it has and specifically in particular name change that occurred many years go now erases those many diverse histories.  Ali Akbar Mehta studied at the JJ School of Art that stood at the beginning of the road that leads into the city’s eastern districts.  As one drives onto a flyover that shares the same name with Ali’s school and was built to circumvent the congestion and surely the people who gather at Bombay’s famous Bhendi Bazaar, one witnesses many ‘Stars of David’ that adorn the muralesque facades of the neo-gothic and art deco buildings that exist on the stretch.  Here ‘Mumbaikars’ stare into the homes from the cars of a community whom they might not easily find in the endogamous housing societies of Bombay.

The buildings that line the roads of Bhendi Bazaar were built by Jewish merchants who were Sephardic immigrants from Baghdad and were initially inhabited by indigenous Bene Israelis from the Konkan hinterland, soon Muslim tenants replaced the migrating Baghdadis and the area soon was host to many different merchant communities which include the Dawoodi Bohras, Jains, Ismaili Khojas and Memons.  In the days of a siege that slaughters thousands in Palestine, Jewish charity runs a school mostly attended by Muslim children while the synagogue is colloquially called the mosque.  Not far from here is Mazgaon that translates from Marathi as ‘My village’. The varied urbanscape today actually arose from leafy plantation houses that once house the East Indians of Bombay and Parsis who were escaping the malarial crowd of the city.  The East Indians were descended mainly from indigenous fishing communities that were converted to Catholicism by the missionaries’ activities of Portuguese missionaries and inquisitions against the locale populace.   A certain bourgeoise arose from families that claimed Mulatto or Portuguese descent, one such family was the De Souza – De Lima family that was granted Mazgaon as an agricultural estate.  The Island of Bombay contained many East Indian villages and Matharpakadi is one that remains though constantly nudged by realtors essentially a village.

Mazgaon was a geography of military intrigue and was fought over for by the Abyssinians sealords of the Mughals, Marathas and the Parsis.  These wars changed the use of land in the area as it was distributed.  The Parsis specifically the Wadia family began a ship building yards, the Bohri Muslims began to service the trade as grocers, petty exporters and in recent years the primary actors in the marine hardware and boat construction business.  The Chinese dockworkers, dentists and tanners set up a China town with a Taoist temple and a cemetery not far away.  The Chinatown was dismantled after the Indo-China war along with its Mahjong clubs and its residents packed of to internment camps in the arid heat of Rajasthan.

Ali Akbar Mehta maps Matharpacady, the remnants of Chinatown, his Bohri grandparent’s apartment and the Wadi Bunder where ships are brought to be torn apart on the dry dock. Here he fights nostalgia by documenting it, recreating it through videos, conversations and staging ethnographic reconstructions of people’s homes within Clark House.  The structure of the art space, which is of an early 20th century colonial apartment, lends itself with ease to these interventions.  Through these interventions Ali stages a dramatic critique on the ghettoisation of the city on communal lines into two communal flanks of east and west after riots of 1993.  Alienation manifests in drawings of superheroes who stretch across the city’s skyline, these are drawn on gateway paper illuminated using the reflection of light and mirror. They are placed aside scenes of the Mazgaon recreated by a poster painter who refers through Ali’s photographs while rendering them using a palette of colour scene in the colonial Bombay School and often used to stage revisits to the city’s history by Bollywood.  Site, Structure and Stage thus reclaims a space by revisiting certain histories purposefully ignored in writing the city’s history by creating narratives around architecture, language, mercantile culture and personal histories around a site that demarcates a certain geography.

 

Sumesh Sharma

Curator, Clark House

Artist Statement

I am a Transmedia Contemporary Artist exploring digital technology in its manifestations of audiovisual content creation, archival and documentation possibilities, and most importantly the hybridization of reality and sensory world building. My practice is formulated across diverse media involving drawing and painting, digital painting, photography, bookmaking, video, data mining, documentation and archival work. My background in 3D Animation, VFX and postproduction has facilitated an ability to support my Art practice forming a parallel body of work. I regularly collaborate with robotic engineers, computer programmers, musicians, writers, theater and filmmakers and I aim to found processes that would leave deep impacts on contemporary culture, technology and knowledge.

My practice is concerned with collective memetic history, narratives of memory and identity formations in relations to the ‘Other’, making visible silenced histories of violence and trauma by encoding new archetypes, hybrid mythologies, and culture jamming. My work, by shifting from practice of image-making, to that of knowledge production, confronts through inquiry the political-religious-socio-economic quadrangle as a constant existence of our lives and investigates the themes of the Hero and his/her position in contemporary society, the nature of violence, and identity; and attempt to reconcile and/or disrupt histories with necessary counter-perspectives.

Violence and its perception are an unstable and contestable phenomenon shaped by social and material factors – a fundamental condition ‘lodged in the core of human experience.’  It is simultaneously private, public, self-intimating and collective. Although trauma manifests as a physical, emotional and psychological bodily sensation, its measurability, locus and description remain ambivalent. As an intangible concept, trauma is thus difficult to define, as it ‘has no referential content,’ and resists objectification in language. Since the experience and interpretation of pain is highly subjective, its representation translates invariably between individuals, societies and cultures. Its depiction or its narration then, has the potential to serve many symbolic and metonymic functions, as a document, a record, a vision, a fact, a possibility, which can be judged, critiqued and understood within the context of its presentation. Though my work, I attempt to understand how the narrative experience of Violence, Trauma and Pain are embodied, embedded and extended in the contexts of these meanings and find ways to confront the potency of a (post) conflict space down to its basic vocabulary out of the need to ensure narratives are not erased or rendered invisible.

I am currently pursuing a Master’s in Visual Contemporary Culture in Art at Aalto University’s Art, Design and Architecture Department, Helsinki, Finland.

I live and work in Helsinki and Mumbai.

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Born August 1983.

BFA (Painting) Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, 2005

MFA (ViCCA) Aalto University of Art, Design and Architecture, currently studying