Gitanjali Dang and Khanabadosh curate this series — Invisible Light — under which various themes will be introduced. Jagte Raho is the opening theme. Read an overview of the curatorial concept, here.
Also view 'Jagte Raho' —
Chapter I: Gagan Singh Slows Down The News
Chapter II: Kush Badhwar and Pallavi Paul speak to the virus
Chapter III: Amshu Chukki looks at a protest that never happened
Chapter IV: Mo’Halla and the film Jagte Raho on everything that doesn’t disappear
Chapter V: Abhishek Hazra on How to Hide Your Hegel
Chapter VI: 7 Isles Unclaimed or the Mumbai That Could Have Been
Chapter VIII: Noticing and note-taking with Shubhangi Singh
Chapter VII: Hazarding guesses with Sahej Rahal
The text for Mumbai-based artist Sahej Rahal’s exhibition Adversary relates a situation where Rahal bumps into the filmmaker George Lucas at Bandra Fort, Mumbai. Lucas is licking his wounds after making some dismal Star Wars prequels. Rahal offers him the bhelpuri he has at hand, then takes Lucas on his Enfield to Vasai Fort. After Rahal regales him with a day of tales, Lucas asks him to be his muse. Overjoyed, Rahal works hard only to later find out that Lucas has shifted his allegiance to Disney. The story concludes with Rahal left simmering with thoughts of revenge.
Though revenge would remain unrealised, it’s certainly not the last that Lucas will see of Rahal. Star Wars allusions, like in the above story, constantly contribute to Rahal’s growing body of work.
In addition to the contemporary art world Rahal’s work partakes among fan-produced material around Star Wars, lending to his understanding of the meaning that audiences bring to an artwork. Rahal makes work that serve as “toys and props that can be used to stitch together your own version of this fictional land.” This piece wades through the characters and objects that appear throughout Rahal's work and hazards some guesses at meaning.
Seeker, 2016. Photographer: Akiyo Yagyu.
Also known as: Brah
First sighted: Around the house
Possible future sightings: The western ghats, on the open sea, as a hologram
If budget permitted: Lightning emitting staff, hovering vehicle, an antagonist
Overheard at a performance: “Get off my turf.”
Only glimpses of Brahamana have been caught since about 2011, initially via online video in dimly lit domestic corridors, the following year on Bandra skywalk and Dhobi Talao subway in Mumbai, before expanding to Vasai fort, Vauxhall Gardens in London and the streets of San Francisco and Nottingham.
Brahmana resembles other characters in Rahal’s worlds such as Tandav and the Groom; distant-past or far-future archetypes such as warriors, shamans, wanderers, fakirs or bards. Common features among them include long unstitched cloth or fur in the form of a hood, or a head wrap and an accompanying staff or pipe.
Brahmana has been compared to a Navajo shaman, the Jawas from Star Wars and German artist Joseph Beuys. “It’s almost as if I stumble upon these characters in bits and pieces,” explains Rahal, “that then arrange themselves into these patchwork beasts. These indeterminate beings and objects then emerge into our everyday lives, as if from the cracks of our civilization.”
Clarion II, 2013.
Species: Priapic Styrofoamus
Also known as: Gold plus hold
Secret of their success: Looking much, much heavier than they are
If unsold: Coral replacement, gallerist’s weapon of choice
Some older collections of objects in India, especially royal family leftovers, contain a section of items for attack and defense composed of a host of swords, knives, knuckle-dusters, spears, guns, cannons, shields etc. This tradition continues in Rahal’s work via a variety of phallic objects which take the form of weapons, tools, fetish objects, walking sticks, telescopes or musical instruments.
Rahal’s wandering Brahmana has, on occasions, wielded a stick, blown into a PVC-pipe didgeridoo reverberating inside a larger pipe that is the Dhobi Talao subway, peered through the pipe at Vasai Fort or swung a pair of tube-lights like a lightsaber in the video Forerunner.
Walker I, 2013.
Also known as: Texas Ranger
Origin: The art world
Destination: Jim Henson creature workshop
Life expectancy: Able to survive an atomic blast
Secret of their success: Everytime you look at them, they stop moving
If Walkers could talk: “Walkers of the world unite!”
“The Walkers,” says Rahal, “are definitely my love letter to sci-fi. They are almost like little mutations trotting out on an absurd exodus from under the city’s debris.”
A staple guest in Rahal’s work, the Walkers echo the wandering undertaken by the shamanic Brahmana figure. As objects, these critters are caught mid-saunter on the gallery floor.
Their legs are often made up of objects found in or around the site of exhibition (coat hangers, bits of metal, legs of chairs, tables or mannequins), a mix of aerosol foam sealant and straggly faux-hair reappear to fill out the upper-body, with a coat of spray-paint over the top for a dash of consistency.
Also known as: Scribbles in space
Subtext: So much clay, so little time
Secret of their success: Strength in numbers, easily pocketable, recyclable
The archaeological dig site, has, in the period of the current regime, attained a politics that may have been difficult to foresee. We now stand at a moment in which what we find beneath our feet has direct implications on who or what controls the state.
Most reminiscent of the archaeological dig site among Rahal’s idiom are the moments he has utilised clay to ‘scribble in space’, at times producing objects in the hundreds, starting at a size no larger than a finger. Busts, heads, faces, masks, tools, weapons, figurines, effigies, to indeterminable shapes reflect the unpredictability of what will survive as a result of our own existence, or what we may find as a result of others.
Says one viewer of these works, “the sculptures feel like a heavy swarm, but too small too many for me to describe. They are somewhere around illegible, but also some of them are forms I recognise as things, but not quite well enough to pin down.”
Drawing III, 2017.
Part of the series: Barricadia
Subtext: Back to the drawing board
Secret of their success: Some DJ’s are best unheard
If drawings could speak: “Where’s that tanpura now?”
Said at a competing website: “Drawings that fall somewhere between graphic novel panels and those strange dreams you wake up from sometimes, and wonder if you’ve dreamt up a movie.”
At art school, Rahal majored in painting, something he felt he “was not very good at.” A chance encounter with a discarded tanpura outside his school in the final year of his studies would facilitate a switch, leading to a full time occupation with the found object.
In 2016, drawings and paintings begin to reappear in Rahal’s work, using landscape or dreamscape to connect dots between object, place, moment and character.
“I’m not sure if I’m returning to drawing or approaching it new,” says Rahal, “I didn’t plan it that way, but like my other work, it’s the past and the future colliding all over again.”
Artist in focus:
Sahej Rahal’s practice is a growing metanarrative, drawing from history, myth and local legend, growing within the contemporary. Borrowing directly from the physicality of the city, using discarded objects; refashioning them into tools, weapons, masks and musical instruments that resemble artifacts from lost civilisations, yet bare signifiers of our times. These objects become ‘props’ in performances, where indeterminate beings perform absurd ritualistic acts in the corners of our everyday, transforming them into liminal sites where fiction and history collide. More on his work can be found here.
Kush Badhwar is a filmmaker interested in media tectonics, collaborative practice and improvised and informal political engagement. More here.
Khanabadosh is an itinerant arts lab founded by Gitanjali Dang in Mumbai in 2012. More here.