The stark white walls of the Infosys Foundation Gallery at the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, serve as a backdrop to seven artworks, mainly installations, laid across the room. The minimalist interiors are the perfect foil, enabling viewers to take in the powerful, moving stories these works hold.
The works are part of Bengaluru-based artist Indu Antony’s ongoing exhibition, Mindscapes: In the Company of Others. Organised by MAP in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, a London-based foundation that focuses on health research, the Bengaluru programme is part of Mindscapes, an international cultural initiative informed and inspired by Wellcome’s mental health programme. Antony is currently the Mindscapes Bengaluru artist-in-residence.
Spread over four floors of the museum, Antony’s works take the viewer on an eye-opening journey into the lives, losses and joys of the women she met and worked with in Lingarajapuram, a locality in north-eastern Bengaluru, and Namma Katte, a project she started last year. Antony conceived Namma Katte as a space for leisure where women, irrespective of age, religion, work, caste, language, can get together to do nothing in particular.
The artworks in the exhibition draw from the lives of these women whose daily schedules and moods are determined by the day’s water supply. And who sometimes, owing to family or lack of personal space, have had to repress their grief at the loss of a dear one. In spite of their problems, though, they have been generous with their friendship to Antony. Antony, in fact, credits them women as collaborators for some of the works. A few works, like Enne Piddikko? (Will You Hold Me?), have been inspired by her own life. But a common thought underlining all the artworks is of about how issues of mental health are addressed in a city, and why we need shared spaces to be heard.
Antony begins the walk-through with “Thanni illame eppadi raktham kaluvuthu”, a line in Tamil which translates to “Without water how will I wash this blood off?” The work comprises 30 glazed clay pots with lithographic prints of 30 women from Namma Katte, and inscriptions in Malayalam. The work, Antony says, was triggered by a conversation at the leisure space around two years ago. She recalls, “One day, this lady came to Namma Katte with blood on her forehead. She revealed that she was beaten by her brother. When I asked her why she had not washed the blood off, she replied that she was waiting for the water tanker.” The work, as Antony states in her artist note, spotlights “an unsaid nexus between water shortage, women’s unacknowledged labour, violence against women and the loss of her identity”. While the name of the installation comes from the conversation, Antony chose to write the inscriptions in Malayalam because it's her mother tongue, the language she feels closest to while expressing.
At the other end of the room is Us, an installation of 10 raw clay sculptures with in-built diyas. Antony created this memorial-like work based on stories she heard at Namma Katte about the deaths of young women that were written off as accidents. “The sculptures are shaped in a raw form to depict that they have been pulled from earth and to the earth they will return,” Antony explains. “The sculptures are shaped in a raw form to depict that they have been pulled from earth and to the earth they will return,” Antony explains.
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Stationed beside Us is a music player with headphones. Called Oppari, this audio work is an accompaniment to the installation and plays songs of mourning. Inspired by the oppari tradition in Tamil Nadu, Antony got professional mourners to sing these songs of lament.
The walk-through continues with a brief stopover at an enclosed glass case that holds two white gloves stuffed with hair. Titled Enne Piddikko? (Will You Hold Me?), the work is emblematic of the loneliness Antony experienced during the pandemic as a woman living on her own. “I have been living alone for 22 years but the pandemic was the first time I felt the need for someone to hold me.”
That’s where Namma Katte became a space of belonging for her as well. “When I told the women there that I needed to be held, they told me, ‘We will hold you,’” she says. This loneliness and need to be held also led Antony to create Njangal Pidikkam (We Will Hold You), cushiony, colourful patchwork gloves that “simulate the comfort of someone holding your hand”.
These gloves hang inside the 20ft-high installation Nanna Langa (My Skirt), draped over a tall metal frame. Another collaborative work with the women of Namma Katte, created using the Kaudi technique, the patchwork “skirt” features 546 blouse pieces embroidered with 546 stories of these women. Stitched in various Indian languages, these are personal stories the women chose to share with each other and the world. For Antony, the idea behind Nanna Langa had to do with raising awareness about the need for shared spaces where women, who are structurally silenced, can gather and open up.
The installation, which resembles a cosy tent, invites viewers to enter, plop themselves on the beanbag-like Rubber Nighties installation made from reused nighties, and listen to a recording of women’s stories that plays on loop. Antony says “the tent has had viewers opening up and sharing their own stories as well”.
Mindscapes: In the Company of Others is on display at the Museum of Art & Photography,Bengaluru, till 6 August, 10am-6.30pm (Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday) and 10am-7.30pm (Friday-Saturday).