Memories of the Mahatma is curated in honor of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The exhibition explores Gandhi’s legacy as India’s most influential and recognizable historical figure through his remembrance in the present day.
Vivek Vilasini’s photographic series titled Vernacular Chants II looks at sculptural depictions of Gandhi. Included are full-length statues and busts that are instantly recognizable and others that are less so. These photographs were taken over a two-week expedition in South India after Vilasini stumbled upon a sculpture that “looked nothing like the great man.” He said, “instead, Groucho Marx was staring down at me. That’s when the idea of putting this work together occurred to me.” When shown together, these nine images are comically dissimilar. His photography questions the aesthetic features that have come to symbolize Gandhi. It calls to question exactly what is being remembered,but also diminished, through these sculptures.
In much of his work, Vilasini examines our existing social structures regarding diverse expressions of cultural identity. His large-format photographs evoke delicate ironies that impact existing ideologies and influence cultural and social consciousness.
The work of both Vilasini and G. R. Iranna addresses Gandhi’s influence on political protests and movements. In Through The Looking Glass (Boycott British Goods), Vilasini makes direct reference to Gandhi’s call. This movement aimed to revitalize the local Indian economy but also to weaken the British economy. Iranna’s Untitled (Paduka Installation) represents the 1930 Salt March led by Gandhi against the British salt monopoly — meant to gain publicity and press to challenge the unjust and oppressive salt laws of the British Raj.
This installation is a precursor to the work titled Naavu (Kannada for “We Together”), shown at the 2019 Venice Biennale. G. R. Iranna’s monumental work comprises padukas, or traditional Indian wooden sandals embraced by Mahatma Gandhi and worn during the march. Iranna has often worked with commonplace objects such as padukas, which have been associated with spirituality and reverence since antiquity. Gandhi’s padukas (indicative of his adherence to non-violence in the rejection of leather) allude to his idea of Satyagraha (passive political resistance), attained through the collective action of marching. It is believed that in his forty years of active political life, Gandhi walked an average of twenty kilometers a day.
Memories of the Mahatma interrogates the stereotypical visual representations associated with Gandhi and their detraction of his political activism. Through discarding Gandhi’s widely identifiable eyeglasses, the spinning wheel, or walking staff, critical components of Gandhi’s legacy emerge in focus.