Exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi weaves new learning

Faizal Khan
Navkirat Sodhi, Mahatma Gandhi, Swar Santati, NGMA, Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust, Mahatma Gandhi journey

At the beginning of a new exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi, some words scribbled on the wall instantly connect the Father of the Nation with contemporary times. It reads: "Till the stale waters of slavery evaporate from the salt we will march." Delhi-based poet Navkirat Sodhi, the author of the verse on Gandhi, says it's a realistic yet imagined conversation with the Mahatma. "It means how far I have come from what Gandhi suggested. How far we have come from his ideas around progress," adds Sodhi.

Navkirat Sodhi, Mahatma Gandhi, Swar Santati, NGMA, Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust, Mahatma Gandhi journey

Sodhi is one of the several artists, writers, photographers and designers who have contributed to Swar Santati: A Befitting Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi-The life, The legend, The legacy at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in the national capital. Inaugurated on January 30, the day he was assassinated 72 years ago, the exhibition weaves a new learning of Gandhi's ideals for contemporary society.

"To understand Gandhi, you have to use your imagination," says Sukanya Bharatram, his great-granddaughter and trustee of the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust. "Anything you create towards searching his ideas is about understanding him," adds Bharatram, who was present at the opening of the exhibition first mounted on October 2 last year at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai.

One of the highlights of the show is the fusion of the traditional Jamdani weaving of West Bengal and Bangladesh with Raja Ravi Varma's paintings to create khadi saris by women weavers of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. A work of textile designer Gaurang Shah, the saris are woven with the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma like his Sita Swayamvar and Krishna Shishtai.

"The women weavers were trained for one year," says Lavina Baldota, who has curated Swar Santati. "Each sari took one year to create," adds Baldota, a textile and fashion designer. "It's a marriage of art and craft," says Baldota. The vegetable-dyed Jamdani saris made by the Srikakulam women weavers used lithographs given by the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation for the work. "Gandhi was so much an artist, and interested in art," says Baldota.

The exhibition also received photographs and portraits from the Mumbai-based Kishore Jhunjhunwala, a collector of objects and documents connected to Gandhi. "Kishore Jhunjhunwala has been collecting objects related to Gandhi for the past 50 years," says Baldota. "We took 250 objects from his collection of over 10,000," she adds. The banner headline from The Evening Bulletin of Rhode Island in the US on January 30, 1948, in the Jhunjhunwala collection at the exhibition reads 'Gandhi Shot to Death'. Another in The Detroit Free Press, also in the US on the same day, says, 'Murder of Gandhi Starts India Riots'.

The exhibition also has five works of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson on Gandhi from the archives of the IGNCA. One of the photographs from 1948 shows him leaving a mosque in Mehrauli and in another, a crowd is trying to touch the train taking his ashes to the Ganges. There are also paintings of Gandhi by Hungarian artist Elizabeth Brunner, also from the IGNCA archives.

Ahimsa, an installation by Delhi-based light designers Klove Studio, uses metal and mirror to create a spatial vision of Gandhi's iconic round glasses that symbolise truth and non-violence. "Gandhi is many things to many people," says Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh, who inaugurated Swar Santati, which was four years in the making. "The exhibition recognises the multifacted nature of his personality and the influence Mahatma Gandhi had on our culture," adds Ramesh.

"The exhibition is a reflection of Mahatma Gandhi's journey," says Mukesh Sharma, one of the artists at an exhibition on Gandhi organised by the NGMA, Delhi, last month. Swar Santati: A Befitting Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi-The life, The legend, The legacy is on view at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi,
till February 9

The author is a freelancer