Ajjincya Goshti 2004
Three channel video, colour, sound, loop, duration 48 minutes
Stories are in Marathi with English subtitles
A Video Installation show by Shakuntala Kulkarni
Like some of the other more sensitive contemporary artists, Shakuntala Kulkarni tries to revivify her art practice by critically engaging with the protean energies of a discipline like anthropology. In her new work, Ajiinchya Goshti the questions she asks are as crucial to social scientists as they are or at least should be to media artists (especially as they find themselves making Art in the Age of Globalisation/ Hyper-Nationalism): how are we to appreciate the idea of a community (real and imagined and in most cases, real because imagined) which allows for the possibility of bonding, partnering and collaborating and facilitates the art of being and becoming whole again and again by sharing ones life with others as much as allowing them to share yours.
Shakuntala’s work addresses questions of representation: asking who has the right to speak and for whom and about what? It also raises questions about how society defines what is worthy of attention and what is not. In a world when youth sub-cultures have attracted mediatic and scholarly attention; where each wrinkle is conceived of as an undesirable signature of advancing years to be postponed for as long as cosmetically and clinically possible, it is unlikely that a kind of a gerontological sub-culture and community conclave would merit a second look. It is this hierarchy of value that Shakuntala turns on its head when she directs her camera at a community of older women that is as much a support group as an informal social club. The documentary-like images capture slices of their lives – their childhoods, education, possible employment, their experiences of marriage, travel, their connections and a collective picnic. The camera lovingly celebrates every laugh and frown line as a badge of experience and records their unembarrassed pleasure in the rituals of food and dining (without counting each calorie).
The focus on an apparently more ‘mainstream’ group of women – upper caste, middle class – not only rejects the regimes of political correctness in addressing class, caste and gender but also draws our attention to the ways in which middle-classness has been showcased in the last decade or so. Media images have reified the middle class woman and her modern practices of consumption even as national cultural histories are sought to be written on her body. How do these ageing-Mother-India’s adapt to the changing socio-cultural and economic scenarios? More importantly how does their presence in these frames redefine our own visions of what it means to be middle-class?
The sound and sight of the television often enters into the domestic contexts against which these women are located placing one screen within another apparently juxtaposing the ‘real’ and the ‘constructed’. This strategy compels us to ask: where and how do these worlds buttress and/ or contradict each other? Do the soap opera images of domestic life constructed within carefully constructed interior spaces bear any resemblance at all to our real life contexts? Or are there no points of intersection at all between the melodramatic premises of the tele-visual images staged around a series of conflicts, where a magnifying glass is held to the politics of saas-bahus and the unravelling of marriages and the everyday worlds of cooking, cleaning and living.
The images in this show privilege the ‘everyday’, centre-staging it and subverting our expectations of rupture. They effectively disassociate our protagonists from the scheming saas – benevolent saas binaries, which are often the one-dimensional ways in which older women are portrayed in television soap operas. The work reminds us of the need to focus on gendered private spaces in contexts that are neither violent nor sexual.
This act of creative intervention does more than merely record the voices of a few women; it represents in a very real way an act of building an archival body of information. Such an archive incorporates a questioning about which voices have the right to be recorded and heard and which voices are seen as making valuable contributions. It also challenges and expands our notions of what constitutes an archive. The work can be seen as occupying an interesting juncture where art and anthropology meet - a partnership facilitated by the increasing democratisation of the video camera which allows for various possibilities to emerge.