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Taped Crusader Pushes Perspectives

Inviting New Yorkers to view their city from a more playful perspective, Aakash Nihalani has been creating street art which encourages dimensional disruptions since 2007. Through his impermanent interventions he seeks to “highlight the unexpected contours and elegant geometry of the city itself.” He’s currently developing a new series of works, in less urban environments, as the Lisa de Kooning Artist in Residence.
 

Aakash’s signature fluorescent isometric idiosyncrasies emerged when he was taping up his thesis show at NYU. He noticed the shadow of a pedestal which he decided to outline with tape. This observation led to further adhesive explorations, including fusing tape and cardboard, which Aakash eventually took to the street.
 


Check this fab clip on Aakash’s Stop sign piece in progress: Stop, Pop & Roll
 

“I kinda like the inevitable destruction. Making sure things last is a cumbersome task.”
– Aakash Nihalani, on It’s Nice That


Aakash’s works in New Delhi from late 2011
 


Images for Aakash’s Lacoste LIVE camapaign, shot by Mark Hunter
 

The Lacoste LIVE 2012 Spring/Summer campaign features Aakash, on the streets of New York, in their Unconventional Talents series
 
More recently Aakash has been producing works as the Lisa de Kooning Artist in Residence. From here he continues to explore and accentuate frozen moments while playing with our perspective preconceptions:




 
Note-worthy: Aakash’s lively take on Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog was actually shot from above, against a New York pavement:

 
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Random Specific Musings from the Ramayana
Indo-French Street Skills

All images, with permission, from Aakash Nihalani
 

Inviting New Yorkers to view their city from a more playful perspective, Aakash Nihalani has been creating street art which encourages dimensional disruptions since 2007. Through his impermanent interventions he seeks to "highlight the unexpected contours and elegant geometry of the city itself." He's currently developing a new series of works, in less urban environments, [...]

At Home: Community Conversations on Health


Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai.

Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created the conceptual framework for the show, Nandita Kumar – and to meet many of the slum-based artists she had collaborated with. The installation grew out of a community-based initiative by SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) which cited an opportunity to connect resource constrained urban residents with health experts and artists – to share skills plus knowledge, discuss issues and create ways of spreading messages further in a locally engaging and meaningful way.
 

Children readily engaged with a hand-operated television set featuring ‘good news’

The installation space, set up within a school at the heart of Dharavi, housed artworks which spoke to local domestic settings – hence the exhibition’s name Ghare Pe – At Home. During my afternoon visit a number of neighbouring school groups excitedly swarmed through and were shown round by the participating artists – who confidently explained their artworks while encouraging onwards conversation on health issues. Young students were intrigued by the many household items which were both familiar yet creatively provocative. The interactive and tactile nature of the show reeled them in as Nandita had intended.
 

Both youthful and elderly visitors were taking in the show – here checking out a cupboard filled with stuffed emoticon balls. These intended to illustrate how women have diverse emotions but are unable to express all of them openly within acceptable social norms.
 

Stainless steel canisters are gifted to women at marriage. Here the artist, Sneha, reveals: “I store rice, dal, wheat, jaggery, peppercorns, tamarind and dried chillies – an array of ingredients. To me they are like the flavours of my marriage”
 

Embroidered figures were inspired by topics from diet to vision
 

Locals were confronted by images from their own neighbourhoods – here of a woman facing mental health issues who lives on the street outside a roller door.
 

An embroidered item from a workshop session exploring personal health histories. “Three caesareans. One appendicitis. One miscarriage. And like an ending to a poem, one last family planning scar” Image source.
 
The initiative behind the exhibition, Dekha Undekha (Seen, Unseen) brought together mentors in photography, textiles and ceramics with local residents of Dharavi and beyond through a series of workshops run over the past year. Participants were asked to draw household items and body parts that they were happiest with alongside other exercises which helped them grasp artistic abstraction and skills, connect as a group, discuss health issues plus focus on themes. Conversations went back and forth between composition, concepts and technique plus personal hygiene, mental health, maternal care, sanitation, waste disposal, domestic violence and superstitions.
 

Exploring everyday addictions
 


Dishracks displaying household utensils are exhibited with pride across homes at Dharavi. Blended with photography they speak here about local health issues – especially surrounding sanitation.
 

Embroidered work depicting bacteria. “If you think about it, looking at microbes through a microscope makes them appear like they all set for a wedding – stained in many colours of royal purple, hot pink and pistachio green. They look so dressed up!” – commencing a conversation about what can be done to prevent the spread of diseases.
Image by Neville Sukhia

 



Sneha’s stovetop exhibit portraying domestic harmony and violence.

Spirited local artist Sneha has been a victim of domestic abuse. One of her artworks encompasses a decorated stove top. “Some days are marriage, some days are war.” One side of the stove shows happy days full of colour while the other side is filled with fear and a darker side of home life. She told me assuredly that “learning about intention, sequence, themes and action helped guide the emotions we felt to connect with the health issues we discussed in a way that would appeal to people out here.”
 

Asmabee with a selection of photographs by various local artists, including her own.

Dharavi-based artist, Asmabee, hadn’t touched a camera till about a year ago. Last month she earned a photography prize at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in well-heeled South Bombay. She acknowledges that participation in Dekha Undekha has given her confidence and won her local respect. Having worked at Dharavi a few years back, I was in awe at the ease of the local artists I met in articulating both their personal feelings and aspirations for their communities. They had also zealously encouraged visitors from their diverse neighbourhoods to come see the show and to continue discussions beyond its walls. Ghar Pe has been an expertly conceived exhibition and goes a long way in triggering significant conversations and solution-seeking – applaudably with, not for those in low-income communities. It would seem that At Home is a great place to start.

Related posts:
Random Specific Images of Dharavi on Flickr
Women Together: Incentivising Savings

Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai. Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created [...]

Jelly-mongers Explore Edible Experiences

Neon Jelly Chamber inspired by Napoleon’s head chef, Antonin Carême

I was recently introduced to the culinary capers of British foodsmiths Bompas & Parr. They create fine jellies, craft bespoke jelly moulds and curate immersive food installations. Obscuring the boundaries between food and art, I was also intrigued at their deep interest in the historical and cultural context of the subject of their fanciful creations.

“We are working hard to restore jelly to its culinary throne… Jelly is magical: it has the ability to make people laugh hysterically, is loaded with nostalgia and best of all, can taste wild. OK, we’re not giving a sermon here – but you get the idea: jelly rocks… Bompass & Parr has always been about creating culinary projects that explode people’s pre-conceived notions of food.” – from B&P’s Jelly

 

Recreation of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral

Bompas & Parr projects have often taken an architectural lens on food construction – with one of this playful pair having training in architecture. However their often light-hearted and quivering formations are underpinned by a rigor in culinary crafts of the highest order. In 2008 designers and architects were invited to create interpretations of their buildings or design style which Bompass & Parr offered to make jellies from. They used 3D printers to fabricate plastic moulds and displayed their array of colourful constructions at the Architectural Jelly Banquet of the London Festival of Architecture – which culminated in a impromptu and impassioned jelly fight.
 

 
Elsewhere the self confessed jelly-mongers and experience-extenders have devised a scratch ‘n’ sniff event for Peter Greenaway’s The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover which was introduced by the director, the Architectural Punchbowl in which a building was flooded with four tonnes of punch and guests ferried across it in rafts to indulge in further edible & quaffable revelry – and an expansive glowing jelly installation for San Francisco’s MOMA.
 

Flicking through their book – we were captivated by their black and gold leaf prosseco funeral jellies, elderflower and summer fruit wedding jellies and even a coffee & tobacco jelly. It inspired us to give jelly-making a go with a some handy tips from B&P. We even visited a local second hand store to scour for interesting mould-making shapes – which turned up gems like lemon squeezers and old-style cut glasses.
 

We dabbled in passionfruit and champagne layered jellies, suspended jelly-beans set in fluted glass moulds and even managed a flaming currant jelly which we set alight with a dash of vodka. The pick of the bunch though was jasmine tea set on top of pomegranate – with a lustful quiver and heart-throb glow:
 

Note: Sadly I didn’t have my full camera kit on me this weekend so have had to go with what I could manage on my iPhone. But check out Bompas & Parr’s Jelly book if you get the chance – the photography will get you salivating as much as their flavorsome follies.

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Old City, New Film

© Patang – Kushi Productions

Many of you know I’ve been photographing the Uttarayan kite festival in India for a number of years now. While teaching at the National Institute of Design (NID) for a couple of years from 2005, I lived close to the action in Ahmedabad’s Old City. This week I was back there for the chaos, colour and celebration of the annual festival. My visit was made even more special as I attended a warmly hosted private screening of the superb film Patang which will officially premiere in at the Berlin Film Festival next month.

Patang (Hindi for ‘kite’) is set in the Old City where a family duels, spins and soars like the countless kites in the skies above. During it’s poetic journey, the film weaves together the stories of six people transformed by the energy of India’s largest kite festival. When a successful Delhi businessman takes his daughter on a trip back to his childhood home for the festival, an entire family has to confront its own fractured past and fragile dreams. With naturalistic performances from actors (Seema Biswas, Nowaz, Sugandha Garg) and non-actors alike – bold, lyrical editing, vibrant cinematography and a kinetic score – Patang enchants the senses and nourishes the spirit.
 

Patang features three interwoven stories. Image of kite-string paste by yours truly.

The seeds for Patang were planted in 2005, when script-writer and director Prashant Bhargava’s travels to Ahmedabad coincided with Uttarayan. “When I first witnessed the entire city on their rooftops, staring up at the sky, their kites dueling ferociously, dancing without inhibition, I had to make this film.” He returned for the next three years, documenting his experiences with over a hundred hours of video footage. Slowly immersing himself in the ways of the Old City, he became acquainted with its unwritten codes of conduct, its rhythms and secrets. Prashant would sit on street corners for hours at a stretch taking in the nuances of daily life. Over time he connected with shopkeepers and street kids, gangsters and grandmothers. This process formed the foundation for developing the characters and story. As he began writing, Prashant realised that capturing the spirit of the festival and the city – its beauty and flow, joy and strength – would require multiple narratives. And so Patang found its shape as three interwoven stories centering on a family that reunites for the kite festival. Patang’s message and cinematic style developed organically from the deep roots of life in the Old City. Prashant reflects: “The sense of poetry and aesthetics became less of an imposed view and more of one that emerged from the pride, the people, the place.”
 

One of my stills, shot in Ahmedabad’s Old City, from Patang’s opening sequence.

Some of my photographs were featured in the title sequence – but Prashant far surpasses my efforts to capture the flavour, festivities and texture of Uttarayan during the film. I was especially proud to hook up the production crew with my über-talented former student Satya Rajpurohit of the Indian Type Foundry, who’s multi-lingual typeface also features in the opening titles. I managed to join Patang’s crew, actors and friends on a fabulously located rooftop during Uttarayan this week as the sun set and the sky filled with kites followed by floating lanterns and fireworks. An upbeat track from the film ended up on high rotation and I’d pick that it will be a city-wide hit during the festival’s quintessential rooftop musical rivalry next year.
 

From the Patang rooftop this week. Photo by yours truly.

While the sun went down on yet another Uttarayan, my head was filled with rich memories from the Patang shoot, reflections on the film itself and thoughts of the Old City where my forefathers lived and loved.

Disclosure: I previously dated Prashant for 2 years, across 5 cities and 3 continents. Most likely that makes me a tad biased – though I’m sure those of you who manage to catch the film in upcoming months will surely appreciate his achievements.

Related posts:
Uttarayan Kite Festival (Flickr)
High Flyers of Gujarat (The Guardian)

© Patang – Kushi Productions Many of you know I've been photographing the Uttarayan kite festival in India for a number of years now. While teaching at the National Institute of Design (NID) for a couple of years from 2005, I lived close to the action in Ahmedabad's Old City. This week I was back [...]

Handing Over the New Year

I recently came across this exquisite work at the Mother Tongue exhibition, curated by the Indigo Design Network. It’s creator, Karina Fernandez, was born and raised in Melbourne where she currently studies visual arts at Monash University. She delved into her Indian cultural heritage while devising the piece – which took her on an exploration of body art, particularly bridal henna designs. However Karina found working with henna a messy business and instead wisely opted for a fine marker which still took her a number of hours. The quote she chose is from from Gandhi: No Culture Can Live if it Attempts to be Exclusive – worthy of reflection as we close the curtain on 2010. Happy New Year all…

I recently came across this exquisite work at the Mother Tongue exhibition, curated by the Indigo Design Network. It's creator, Karina Fernandez, was born and raised in Melbourne where she currently studies visual arts at Monash University. She delved into her Indian cultural heritage while devising the piece – which took her on an exploration [...]

Diwali Comes Early Down Under

Although the Diwali Festival of Lights is to be officially celebrated by Hindus and Indo-philes around the world next week – here in Wellington things kicked off early. As part of the Asia New Zealand Foundation festivities I received an arts grant to present a projected exhibition, India Illuminated. Emitting from the shop window of Wakefield Hotel clothing and footwear store, the street-facing show formed a positive urban disruption in downtown Wellington.
 

The exhibition involved a rotating slideshow of 99 images I had captured in India – portraits of priests, muscians and villagers rolled alongside painted doors and tribal tattoos. The original suggestion was that they should be exhibited inside a gallery. But I was adamant – my photos speak of the street… so that’s where they should be shown.
 

 
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India Illuminated: Full Flickr Set
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Shout-out to my production crew at Nektar Films. Opening image by Craig Simcox for the Dominion Post. Closing image by Charles Mabbett of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Although the Diwali Festival of Lights is to be officially celebrated by Hindus and Indo-philes around the world next week – here in Wellington things kicked off early. As part of the Asia New Zealand Foundation festivities I received an arts grant to present a projected exhibition, India Illuminated. Emitting from the shop window of [...]

Indo-Italian Moves


Down here in the depths of winter it was heartening to receive pictures of an exhibition of my photography from summer in Italy. DES – An IndusInk Event: Celebrating a Tryst with the Contemporary was held at the Politecnico di Milano last month. Alongside my images Indian snacks were served, bhangra beats spun and folk dance unfurled. The event was devised by Avnish Mehta who is currently engaged in postgraduate study at PdM – designing products, services and systems… and the occasional cultural soirée.

Would’ve loved to have dropped by to catch these guys in action:
 


All Images: Florian Yzeiraj
Co-curator: Marco Spadafora

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Down here in the depths of winter it was heartening to receive pictures of an exhibition of my photography from summer in Italy. DES – An IndusInk Event: Celebrating a Tryst with the Contemporary was held at the Politecnico di Milano last month. Alongside my images Indian snacks were served, bhangra beats spun and folk [...]

Creative Plot to Blow Up Bombay


It was great to be part of the plan hatched by Akshay Mahajan & Kapil Das of the BlindBoys photography collective to expose the streets of Mumbai to expressive perspectives over the weekend. BlowUp Bombay was one part dynamic duo, one part global photographic talent and three parts street cred. It brought together image hunters who’s work was publicly showcased on the back of a number of earlier global BlowUp plots launched from Bangalore to Paris. (Illustration by Ronald Searle)
 

Image and display by Puneet Rakheja .

Twenty odd photographers were selected for the Mumbai event with locals invited to come along on the day and add their own work. The format was the humble A3 digital copy, the space sprawled across a few derelict blocks of Bandra and the audience ranged from residents to street sellers, photography fans to roadside romeos. Local children joined in to help put up the images and amusingly took on self appointed roles in protecting the displays.
 

Delhi BlowUp, 2009 (Photo by Kapil Das)

“As any artist will attest, street art is best made when unpredictable, subversive and not entirely legal… The Blowup events, where an ad-hoc public photo gallery is created using building walls and shop fronts as hanging space, have slowly accrued a devoted following.” – Mumbai Boss



Amongst the core group of exhibitors were prominent names like Bharat Sikka who lives between Europe and India and has shot for Vogue, Marie Claire, Wallpaper and the New Yorker. Adrian Fisk’s work has appeared in National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Paris Match and the Economist and I’m a particular fan of his documentation of the Indian Hair Trade (above: top). Central insurgent Kapil Das was joined by his partner in crime Akshay Mahanjan who’s images (above: bottom) have featured in Wired, Le Monde and the Wall Street Journal.

And then there was little old me who’s shots have appeared in the Guardian, CNN + Design Observer and who managed to be part of the whole conspiracy from way down here in New Zealand. Included in my submission was the series Jewelled for Life which was mainly taken amongst the desert tribes of Kutch where it’s said that tattoos are a permanent kind of jewellery that one takes to one’s death. Here’s a selection:
 




Lower image by Puneet Rakheja. Check out more of his coverage of the event.

“Life is on display on the street — people walk, sit, stand, sleep, drive, drink, eat, piss, talk, mingle, fight, and love. The street is where groups collide and where people live and die and where all of society mixes with trash, smog, sewage, and the pulsating sounds of traffic. We put together a bunch of our pictures there to bring them to you – where you’re standing, on the street.” – Blindboys

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It was great to be part of the plan hatched by Akshay Mahajan & Kapil Das of the BlindBoys photography collective to expose the streets of Mumbai to expressive perspectives over the weekend. BlowUp Bombay was one part dynamic duo, one part global photographic talent and three parts street cred. It brought together image hunters [...]

Illuminating Urban Imperfections

dispatchwork_a
Berlin-based artist, Jan Vormann, diverts our architectural attention with his global Dispatchwork series. While shining a light on urban histories he celebrates the spirit of repair through his vibrantly incongruous restorations.
 
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Still in his 20s, his artwork has taken him from cities as varied as Tel Aviv and New York (both above) to countries as diverse as Ecuador and Serbia with sponsors including the Amsterdam Centre for Architecture. Some works seek to merely mend weathered decay while others fill scars left by war, such as in Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood.
 
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Lego has produced more than 400 billion units since the 1930’s, deriving its name from the Danish phrase to “play well.” Relevantly Jan often employs an inclusive approach – enlisting the help of passers-by and even encouraging others to take up his approach and send him photos of their creations from across the globe. Other times he works alone, though admits that this can be demanding as in the case at a South American heritage church where he had to dodge thugs, nuns and security officers.
 
dispatchwork_d
Jan’s streetscape interruptions playfully direct us to spaces-between, hidden-histories and untold-tales. And fittingly he uses a medium that we associate with unhindered childhood imaginings with which to fill the gaps.

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Berlin-based artist, Jan Vormann, diverts our architectural attention with his global Dispatchwork series. While shining a light on urban histories he celebrates the spirit of repair through his vibrantly incongruous restorations.   Still in his 20s, his artwork has taken him from cities as varied as Tel Aviv and New York (both above) to countries [...]

Veiled Paradox

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New York-based photographer Kate Orne has focused her lens on Pakitsani prostitution over a number of years in an effort to expose the denial, modesty, pretense and cultural oppression which envelope it.

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Young women from rural villages and refugee camps are sold to the brothels by human-traffickers, while others are born into the trade.

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Prostitution is forbidden under Islamic law, but with the increasing influence of extremist groups, the women risk severe punishment under Sharia Law through beheadings and stoning to death.

The laws – both secular and sacred – seem to disregard the context in which women have entered the profession while paying negligible attention to the men who engage their services.
 
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The women practice modesty according to Islam. For a woman not to cover her chest… is considered daring – even among prostitutes.

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Proceeds from Orne’s print sales from the series May You Never Be Uncovered: The Victims of Pakistan’s Sex Trade support education of the children of Pakistani prostitutes via the Sheed Foundation – “a small but highly efficient community-based organization addressing the social problems faced in particular by the local female sex workers and their children who suffer from oppression, poverty, illiteracy and abuse.”
 
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Orne highlights cultural complexity through her portraits and studies which are both intimate yet modest. Her images don’t provide us with answers but rather confront us to question deeper the paradoxes at play surrounding prostitution. And I’d hasten to add that they are not limited to Pakistan nor Islam.

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New York-based photographer Kate Orne has focused her lens on Pakitsani prostitution over a number of years in an effort to expose the denial, modesty, pretense and cultural oppression which envelope it. Young women from rural villages and refugee camps are sold to the brothels by human-traffickers, while others are born into the trade. Prostitution [...]