If there is one exhibition you must see this month, let that be Mutations. Being hosted at Delhi’s 24, Jor Bagh gallery, the photography exhibition is on view till 25 February. This show is a side event of the recently-concluded India Art Fair, and is a part of an ongoing four-month-long cultural programme between India and France called “Bonjour India”. 

Various techniques and forms of photography are on display at the show. The 16 Indian and French photographers have presented portraits, landscapes, digital montages, collages, mixed-media works, as well as samples of staged and alternative photography.

Guardian 20 spoke to Rahaab Allana, one of the curators of the show. (The other curator is François Cheval). “Mutations deals with the question of ‘identity being in constant flux’. And if identity is in flux, what are the things that contribute to that? What we think about, write about without being based on any particular location, border, territory or a country,” said Allana.

 The first series of photos you come across in the gallery is called The Americans. The mid-shot portraits by Marion Gronier, a French photographer, introduce viewers to the history of America. On the three walls (the fourth has an entrance with a lone portrait of a native American), one can see photographs of  Native Americans, settlers from Europe and black slaves from Africa—each gazing into the lens with penetrating looks.

According to a statement by Gronier, “The United States comprised of three peoples—the ‘Natives Americans’, settlers from Europe and black slaves from Africa. The portraits on view are the ones of their descendants. The idea of America as a utopia is turned on its head when one considers the fanatical religious groups which exist there today, as they do elsewhere, and in truth, it is not a ‘promised land’ as many believe it to be or a place of great opportunities. As the indigenous people were made into slaves, and the troubles persist in reserved areas of the United States, one needs to look at images of those who still bear witness to crime.”

Next to The Americans, a small designated area contains glowing glass boxes. The installed boxes display images of animal parts. The photographs, such as of a jaw of an animal, the head of a tiger, the claws, are from the series Illegal Wildlife Trade by the Indian photographer Asmita Parelkar. This series points to the grave crisis of poaching in our country. 

Mutations is one of those shows that uses the power of installations. The drama these installations create doesn’t appear unnecessary but becomes an indispensable part of the show. As one moves towards the narrow passageway that connects the indoor space of the gallery with the backyard, one comes across hundreds of metal sparrows perched on boulders, bricks and so on in the area. If you pick one bird and press the metal plumage, the sparrow will chirp. In her photo series, Absence Presence, Vibha Galhotra, from Delhi, brings to notice the disappearance of sparrows from the metropolitan. Her photos feature metal sparrows placed around sites of construction. This series brings the memory back of a mixed-media show held in 2011 at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, entitled The Lost Sparrow, which promoted the same cause.

Along the staircase leading up to first floor one sees 21 images by Antony, all featuring hairy legs. Further, there is a sound installation in the gallery. The voice in Malayalam is telling fairytales in a ghastly manner. Clearly, the experiences of the artist, captured here, have not been pleasant. 
In The Lost Head and the Bird, a video installation by Sohrab Hura, another Delhi-based photographer, we are presented with a view of contemporary India. The screen is divided into two images which flash on one by one. Images like a fish in water and a man being fed water are seen placed beside each other. The themes here are the undercurrents of caste, sexual, religious and political violence, which are important subjects for Hura, who, with his work, blurs the line between fact and fiction. The show features photos clicked by him, as well as ones he came across on various social media forums. Why social media images? I ask him.

“For me, it’s like a sort of parallel world that exists in this new form of communication. It is also a new form of reality even if it is fake; a lot of people depend on social media,” says Hura.

Presenting a fair view of contemporary photography from India and France, Mutations also deals with the distant past. Indu Antony’s series, called Vincent Uncle, was created last year and is based on a personal memory that resurfaced after 14 years.

Along the staircase leading up to first floor one sees 21 images by Antony, all featuring hairy legs. Further, there is a sound installation in the gallery. The voice in Malayalam is telling fairytales in a ghastly manner. Clearly, the experiences of the artist, captured here, have not been pleasant.

The exhibition also introduces visitors to the work of Robert Gill. Gill was one of the many painters and photographers who came to India during the 19th century. He was also an army man. Gill himself copied the paintings present in the Ajanta Caves and later also made drawings and photographs of the frescoes. The paintings were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, London but the paintings were burned down in a fire in 1866.

Anouck Durand, through the series The Impossible Copy, has worked with archives of Gill’s work. Durand has overlaid the artist’s biography on various archival images of Gill, and other fresco paintings that were produced in the 19th century. Durand believes that it is impossible to create the facsimile that can do justice to any of the originals.

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