Rahaab Allana is Curator and Publisher of the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts in New Delhi and Founding Editor of PIX, one of India’s first theme-based photography quarterlies and exhibitionary platforms. He has curated various exhibitions, working closely in Museums and galleries within the country and abroad. He teaches an annual diploma course on the History of Photography in India at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai. He has written extensively on photography for the Alkazi Collection and Mapin. He is currently working on a Photography Reader for South Asia.
Rahaab Allana is the curator for Photography at Serendipity Arts Festival 2019.
The Art Issue: What is the inspiration behind your curation for this edition's Photography discipline?
Rahaab Allana: Look, Stranger! takes the form of an extended dialogue between the shadow lines of lens-based practices, influenced by the technological ethos of the turn of the last century into the current one. The still photograph evolved into the moving image and created new optical dimensions and possibilities, all open to creative exploration. The pivotal fusion of film and photography is a prime example of how, within media growth, art and technology have become essential to each other’s evolution and commitment to their common mandate of documenting, mirroring and memorializing what humans deem existentially significant.
AI: Could you tell us a little about the curatorial journey and the selection process of the artists included in the exhibition?
RA: Affiliation, Alienation, Emplacement and the Otherworldly are the broad symbiotic themes that underscore the curatorial schematic of this exhibition after extensive travels in South Asia over the last 8 months, drawing the arc of inquiry from the paradigmatic Film und Foto (Fifo) display in Stuttgart, Germany in 1929, now 90 years ago, to experimental contemporary photography from South Asia, and identifying concerns around the persistence of certain modernist historical trajectories. We have featured over 40 artists and archives from south Asia, and the selection was done through an open call for submission as well as in consultation with museum and independent specialists from across the globe, such as Ifthikar Dadi, head of South Asia from Cornell University; Shahidul Alam from Pathshala in Bangladesh, or Clara Kim (head of International Art) from the Tate Modern to mention a few.
AI: SAF’s mandate for this year is to promote inclusivity in the arts and dilute regional borders. How do you think your curation relates or adds to the theme?
RA: The words ‘Look, Stranger!’ evoke a sense of simultaneous estrangement and immersion, loss and retrieval, dissociation and elision – all in natural, active play when one literally or metaphorically leaves the shores of one’s homeland or the door of one’s home. For artists, the recursive rites of aesthetic departure and arrival are a complex catalyst for the metamorphosis of both selfhood and practice. And like the Arabian Sea visible just beyond the topography of this exhibition, the works on display too are a shifting constant, one that urges viewers to reflect upon what lies within sight or may lie beyond the image horizon, enigmatically seducing and/or eluding the eye.
AI: Why did you choose the title of W.H. Auden's poem 'Look Stranger' as the title of your exhibition?
RA: This exhibition is curated with an eye to the coming together of creative philosophies as well as material forms, and to the generation of new material possibilities for images constructed through hands-on experimentation. The poem by the same name from the 1930s brings to light how we must also transform ourselves in order to be open to possibilities arising from new encounters.
Hence a spectrum of ‘applied’ forms: journalistic photographs, montages, etchings, other renderings, etc., help us reconsider the syncretic legacy of the period. As commented by British architect David Adajaye in context of ‘Making Memory’, a recent exhibition of his work: “It is about the way in which we can adjust the context and landscape to encourage a more open form of engagement.” The proximal and the distant, the static and the dynamic, the abstract and the figural, the revealed and the concealed – these variables in our aesthetic equations challenge us to not only re-calibrate our cherished traditional notions of genre, but also the metaphysics of the image itself.
AI: Is there anything else our readers should know about the exhibition?
RA: This exhibition supports presents photomontage as an essential element that has the potential to foreground a particular effects through contrast and juxtaposition. In keeping with the established ethics of the FiFo exhibition which focused on amateur practitioners rather than on professionals alone, we here also present Filmi Jagat (‘World of Film’), a visual scrapbook composed by an anonymous author and produced in Mumbai in the 1930s or 1940s. Emphasizing significant regional phenomena within the cosmopolitan hegemonies of the thriving film world, this text also organically addresses contemporary notions of nationalism and gender, and is an embodiment of authentic media discourse narrating a new vision of India.
The exhibition Look, Stranger! will be on view at Old GIM, Ribander from 15th-22nd December, 2019
This interview was conducted as a part of The Art Issue's media collaboration with the Serendipity Arts Festival, 2019