Sunday, February 14, 2010

Where is Kala Ghoda?

By Lissa Chazot 

A black stone statue of the then Prince of Wales mounted on a horse was enshrined in collective memory of the people living in South Mumbai and the locality was christened 'Kala Ghoda' after the famous sculpture. Although it is now in the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla (Mumbai), the Kala Ghoda locality retained the nomenclature. Every year during winter, an Arts Festival is organized in the parking area which is converted into a hub for promoting upcoming artists and craftsmen. Everywhere the silhouette of a horse is present like a leitmotiv on every poster, brochure, literature available at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Despite the absence of the Kala Ghoda sculpture it continues to resonate and inspire even today.  
In stark contrast to the dark overtones and symbolic value of a 'black' horse, the space buzzes with life, energy, human activity, food, music…a riot of colors greets the eye as one steps into the precinct of the KG area. Walking through a colourful gateway made of painted Godrej almirahs (steel cupboards), the installation 'Drought – No Rain' by Gray Black, comprising of black horse made with ephemeral materials (twigs) is nudged at the entrance, in the middle of the alley and attracts the eye despite the medley of colors surrounding it.

What is interesting is why a contemporary artist would opt for a historical figure with no direct relation to present day concerns. Shahane, one of the artists explains, "A horse is symbolic of power and speed, which is what concerns us today especially in big cities where we have to run to stay in the race". As the powerful image of tall horse with an imposing stature greeted the visitors, it felt queer to see it look coarse and dry. The artists justified saying, "it represented their concept of a drought, invading our lives. It stood for the drought in the environment, in creativity, in opportunities, in relationships…A black horse is majestic and often portrayed in motion but we portrayed it in an immobile position as if it were stuck, waiting for change but in the process of waiting has lost vitality and dried up." Although the form of the installation created by the 1998 graduates of J.J College, with a mimetic aspect to it, which can't be denied, the concept per say is quite superficial in its treatment. 
The first impression one gets upon seeing it is that it symbolizes the Kala Ghoda Festival. Upon probing further with viewers who stopped by to click it's picture, most shrugged and just found it pleasing to the eye. It didn't make them think or question. Many also thought it was commissioned by the Kala Ghoda Association to promote the Festival. When the official photographer of the Festival, Nitesh Nitesh was asked, he also echoed the same sentiment. Although the subject created some miscommunication between the creators and the receivers, the artists opted for this mode of communication as they found it to be a "good medium to express with no boundaries moreover it includes the scope of working with mixed media".


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