art focus – a terrible beauty – meera devidayal

Where is the lake? 

I was first introduced to video art in Cape Town, South Africa, at the National Art Gallery.

The video art of South Africa, as most of the country’s other modern art, finds itself emanating from the turmoil of its apartheid era, leaving the viewer ripped apart and then brought together into some semblance of wholeness. Video art, I learnt, was not meant as a once off viewing. Every time one watches it, a layer gets peeled, both in the narrative and in oneself, and the journey of exploration thus continues.

So when I heard of A Terrible Beauty, a video and mixed media exhibition at the Chemould gallery by Meera Devidayal, the very first afternoon I had free I rushed off to Prescott road in South Mumbai. 🙂

A Terrible Beauty explores the story of the ruins of Shakti Mills. It echoes a world slowly dying, taken over by moss and ferns, waiting its turn to be demolished and transformed into a steel and glass edifice. And in this transition waiting period, drug dealers and the homeless make it their home – bathing, sleeping, playing the odd round of cards in its empty roofless caverns and staircases leading to nowhere. The pillars, now collapsed make way for a game of cricket in it midst. The freshwater lakes and open green spaces – silent sunlight dappled pockets of squalid overgrown beauty.

The cotton mills of Girangaon, South Mumbai were once the vibrant pioneers of Mumbai’s industrial triumph. When land use regulations were amended in 1991, 58 mills shut down and a chapter of the city’s history wound its way to closure. While many of the mills in the 602 acres were sold to developers to be converted into malls, offices, and apartments for the wealthy, others to date remain abandoned in the face of legal battles, and nature slowly eats its way into them.

Part of Devidayal’s works recount this slow gnawing demise before rebirth through naked raw footage. Others are embellished with tulips, roses and painted skies. Devidayal neither romanticizes the ruins nor condemns their state; she merely documents it, presenting a philosophical view, commenting on the life cycles of structures. “Something so monumental in a state of ruin is a romantic visual to behold. But I’m trying to understand the nature of change, and how things that seem like they will stay forever, don’t. What happens to them?,” explains Devidayal. She leaves it to the viewer to decide, whether to love or hate, or remain indifferent to this process of Mumbai’s metamorphosis, as the layers, in the story and in oneself, peel away.

– – –

A Terrible Beauty is on display at the Chemould Prescott Road art gallery, Fort, Mumbai till 9 July, from 11 am to 7 pm.

A Terrible Beauty

Still, A Levelled Playing Field

Still, Cricket: A National Unifying Factor

The Silent Wheel, the show’s centerpiece


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